THE Public Health Agency (PHA) has warned young people about the dangers of vaping the synthetic drug spice after a number of youths were taken to hospital.
According to reports, the victims believed they had bought cannabis oil.
The PHA said that all drugs, legal or otherwise, carried a risk and should not be taken unless prescribed by a professional.
Drug and alcohol lead Michael Owen added: "Parents and guardians have a particularly important role to play in alerting young people to these dangers.
"Don’t avoid the subject. Listen to their views and experiences of alcohol and drugs and speak to them about the dangers of taking substances to let them know the short-term and long-term impact it can have."
Mr Owen said the danger was greater at this time of year as young people have time on their hands over the Easter break.
"They may be hanging out with friends more and trying out new things, but just trying something because your mates are doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do," he explained.
"We have been alerted to serious issues around young people thinking they’re buying cannabis oil or THC to vape, only to discover that it’s in fact spice.
"There is no way to know if what you’ve been sold is what you’re actually taking.
"For some, they’ve found out too late and ended up in hospital after suffering the severe effects of vaping spice."
Mr Owen stressed that drug abuse was particularly dangerous for young people because it could have a negative effect on developing brains.
"It can impact the brain’s ability to function in the short-term, as well as prevent proper growth and development for later in life," he said.
"Substance abuse affects teenagers’ brain development by interfering with neurotransmitters and damaging connections within the brain, creating problems with memory and emotional development, causing missed opportunities during a period of heightened learning potential, ingraining expectations of unhealthy habits into brain circuitry and reducing the ability to experience pleasure.
"Any drug or medicine has the potential to be a poison. There are only three things that differentiate it.
"Firstly, the dose. If you take too much of it, you could die or become seriously ill.
"Secondly, the reason for taking it. If it is not clinically prescribed for you, it could also be lethal.
"Thirdly, if you are taking it with something else, for example mixing it with alcohol or other drugs, it could also cost you your life."
The PHA has alerted grassroots organisations about the dangerous new trend through the Drug and Alcohol Monitoring and Information System.
Dr Stephen Bergin, the interim director of public health at the body, said: "If you think you might have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs and would like to get help, please visit www.drugsandalcoholni.info for information on support services.
"There is also a range of services available to you if you are affected by someone else’s drinking and/or drug misuse. Information on these services is also available on this website.
"These services are available to you regardless of whether or not your loved one is receiving help for his or her alcohol and/or drug problem.
"I would encourage parents and guardians to talk to young people about the dangers of substance misuse.
"We know this isn’t an easy thing to do. We have a useful leaflet giving advice on how to approach this subject at www.pha.site/YouChildandDrugs".
The PHA recommends that parents be proactive about alcohol and drugs, rather than waiting until a problem arises.
It says adults should take the time to listen to what young people have to say because discussing the matter can help youths make better choices.
It also wants parents to think about how their behaviour can influence their children.
The PHA warns adults not to assume that young people don’t want to talk about drugs or alcohol, since silence could be misinterpreted as approval.
Mums and dads are also advised not to assume youths already know everything, or to interrupt or be overly judgmental.