By Henry Samuel
PARIS, France: A spate of hydrangea thefts in northern France have been blamed on “hortensia gang” of cash-strapped thieves looking for a cheap alternative to cannabis.
Some flower lovers prefer hydrangea of the mophead or lacecap variety, others the snowball, oakleaf, or paniculata, but others simply prefer ripping off the delicate heads of any of the above and smoking them as “cheap weed”, French police have claimed.
Gendarmes in northern France are on the trail of a “gang des hortensias” (hydrangea gang) they believe has made off with the popular ornamental flowers from dozens of gardens to smoke them as a cheap, legal alternative to cannabis.
Last month, residents of the small village of Hucqueliers in the Pas-de-Calais area were dismayed to discover their prize hydrangea of pink, white and blue had been stripped of their flower heads.
“The thieves came and cut my plants right under my window,” said Jean Carpentier, among the first victims who lost 30 of his finest flowers “They must have been well-informed as our garden is not visible from the street,” he told France 3, the regional TV station.
“The gendarmes came and took a look and agreed it was strange, but said that they had other fish to fry.”
But when the flower snatching spread to neighbouring Humbert, Saint-Michel-sous-Bois and Bécourt, and complaints started flooding in not just from local gardeners but mayors, the gendarmes were forced to take a closer look.
They consulted the local pharmacist, Maurice Dumez, who pointed out that Germany has seen a spate of thefts of hydrangea from Bavarian public gardens and that the petals when dried and mixed with tobacco can be smoked as a cheap alternative to cannabis.
He confirmed the hallucinogenic and euphoria-inducing effects of the hydrangea bloom, whose effect is similar to that of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in the cannabis plant.
Captain Frédéric Evrard, spokesman for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional gendarmerie, blamed the thefts on the economic downturn.
“With the crisis we have the impression people are now turning towards natural products, because synthetic ones are more expensive. If these thefts are linked to drug use, then it’s the same sort of wave as the hallucinogenic mushrooms collected in the wild,” Mr Evrard told Le Figaro.
Some experts have urged anyone tempted to have a puff of Hydrangea paniculata or other varieties to steer clear of the plant.
“The secondary effects of it are very bad for the health,” warned last year Kurt Hostettmann, honorary professor of pharmacology at the University of Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland.
Smoking hydrangea, he warned, can lead to “intestinal and respiratory problems, a speeding up of the heart and dizziness” and, if consumed in large quantities, can produce hydrogen cyanide, or prussic acid, which was used to make Zyklon B, the poison gas used in the Nazi death chambers, causing a slow and painful death.
Others, however, were less alarmist.
“You’d have to smoke a hell a lot of hydrangea to really put your life in danger, unless you were allergic to the stuff,” said Nicolas Authier, a professor of addictology, who pointed out that hydrogen cyanide was also present in cigarettes.
To his knowledge, he told Europe 1 radio, there exists no scientific publication “warning of the health risks of hydrangea”.
Thierry Buclin, pharmacologist at the University Hospital of Lausanne said there were fads for various flowers and foodstuffs said to produce a high, from dried banana to sage and cloves.
“I don’t think the hydrangea is destined to be a long-lasting hit,” he said.
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SOURCE: The Telegraph