Postcard from... Paris
John Lichfield has been The Independent's man in Paris since 1997, covering French news. Before that, he was the paper's Foreign Editor and he has also worked in Brussels and Washington. In 1999, he was the UK press Awards Foreign Reporter of the year.
Tuesday 11 February 2014
What on earth are they smoking in northern France? Hydrangeas, apparently. Police in the Pas de Calais are on the trail of a “hydrangea gang”, which is presumably a direct descendant of the Lavender Hill Mob. Residents of several villages have filed complaints that their prized hydrangeas have been systematically stripped of buds or growing tips. Carefully placed in soil or compost, these buds can develop into new plants.
Gendarmerie investigators suspect, according to the regional newspaper La Voix du Nord, that they are dealing with something more dangerous than unscrupulous rival gardeners or desperate owners of failing garden centres. The leaves of the ubiquitous hydrangea, dried and rolled into cigarettes, can give a mildly psychedelic high.
Hydrangeas have become very popular in Germany and Switzerland as legal substitute for cannabis. The trend appears to be spreading to France.
Professor Kurt Hostettmann, a pharmacologist at Lausanne University, says hydrangeas contain a substance which has a similar effect to THC, the psycho-active ingredient in grass or cannabis resin.
Possible question for the panel on Gardener’s Question Time: “Which hydrangeas are the best to smoke, the red, white, pink or blue, the flat-flowered or ball-flowered?” This is, however, not a laughing matter. Prof Hostettmann points out that hydrangea leaves can cause gastric and respiratory problems. They can accelerate the heart dangerously and cause fainting fits.
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