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Where do drugs come from?

Drugs bought from dealers or underground sources come from a number of sources:

1. Grown in the UK
2. Made in domestic labs
3. Stolen or sold on from chemists or hospital pharmacies
4. Imported from overseas
5. Bought online


Drugs come in three basic forms; raw plant (like cannabis or mushrooms); refined plant (like heroin or cocaine) or synthetic (like ecstasy or amphetamine). Plant-based drugs like heroin and cocaine tend to be produced in the areas where the opium and/or coca leaves grow because the plants need special conditions. But cannabis is effectively a weed and can grow anywhere including indoors, under strong lights without any soil. So while cannabis resin (hash) is still imported into the UK from north Africa, about 75% of the cannabis available in the UK is grown here in so-called cannabis farms, although these are often just ordinary residential houses.


Drugs like amphetamine, ecstasy and mephedrone are often produced in underground labs based in the Netherlands, Belgium and eastern Europe. Synthetic drugs (including synthetic cannabis and a whole variety of 'legal highs') are often produced in China and the Far East and sold over the internet. China also manufactures many of the basic chemicals needed to make recreational/ non-medical drugs. It also possible to buy prescription drugs such as tranquillisers, sleeping pills and painkillers from online pharmacies without proper medical supervision


Most drugs that are imported into the UK are brought in by professional gangs and/or those working on their behalf, often under duress – like female drug ‘mules’ who are made to swallow drugs in condoms to bring them through ports and airports. Larger consignments come in container lorries, boats, small planes and even in the post.


The main trafficking routes to the UK are:
Cannabis – via Spain from north Africa
Heroin – via Iran, Turkey and the Balkans from Afghanistan (where 90% of UK heroin comes from)
Cocaine – via the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal and west Africa from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

Updated July 2013

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