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Teen types on cell phone with emojis floating around in bubbles

Understanding How Emojis are Used in Drug Culture

Ed Knight

By Ed Knight

April 12, 2022

As many

can attest, making sense of your kids can be hard. It can be even more difficult if they are speaking a different language. 

Take the colorful world of emojis, for example. The Drug Enforcement Administration

detailing how those colorful texting icons are often deployed by young people as codes for drug deals. 

That lightning bolt might not be referencing the weather. The grapes may not be about fruit. And the red-spotted mushroom – okay, that’s probably pretty obvious. 

The guide is part of the DEA’s “One Pill Can Kill” campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness of the dangers associated with drugs such as fentanyl.

The agency said that the reference guide “is intended to give parents, caregivers, educators, and other influencers a better sense of how emojis are being used in conjunction with illegal drugs.

“Emojis were originally designed to represent an emotion, event, or activity, but have recently taken on a language of their own,” the DEA said in its release. “Criminal organizations, including drug traffickers, have noticed and are using emojis to buy and sell counterfeit pills and other illicit drugs on social media and through e-commerce.”

According to the chart, emojis such as a crystal ball and a diamond are often meant as references to meth. A heart and lightning bolt may symbolize MDMA and molly. Percocet and oxycodone are at times represented by a banana. 

“Fake prescription pills, commonly laced with deadly fentanyl and methamphetamine, are often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone,”

.

The DEA’s Experience with Emojis

The agency said that the “emojis [detailed on the chart] reflect common examples found in DEA investigations,” but added that the “list is not all-inclusive, and the images above are a representative sample.

“Emojis, on their own, should not be indicative of illegal activity, but coupled with a change in behavior; change in appearance; or significant loss/increase in income should be a reason to start an important conversation,” the DEA advised.

In the chart, the DEA listed a host of what it described as “dealer signals” that may be used by those selling drugs on social media platforms: emojis such as a crown or a smiley face with dollar signs may be used as advertisements by dealers, while high potency products may be denoted by a rocket ship or bomb.

Dr. Tim K. Mackey, the CEO of S-3 Research and a professor of global health at UC San Diego,

that parents should “keep tabs on all deliveries and packages that come to the home, including those being transported by trusted food delivery services and popular shipping carriers.”

“A lot of product comes domestically and isn’t scanned or inspected the same way it’d be if it came internationally,” Mackey

the magazine.

Mackey also highlighted the risks accompanied by social media platforms, which he said “tend to expose youth to higher-risk content.”

The DEA’s “One Pill” campaign is a response to what the agency says is mass-production of “fake pills” by criminal drug networks in the United States.

“Counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, often contain fentanyl or methamphetamine, and can be deadly,” the agency said. “Fake prescription pills are easily accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms, making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors. Many counterfeit pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®).”

The agency has also

to help individuals differentiate between an authentic and counterfeit prescription drug. 

Ed Knight

About The Author

Ed Knight

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