Synthetic Cannabinoids Linked to Deaths in Illinois

APRIL 10, 2018
Kristen Coppock, MA, Editor
Three deaths in Illinois are being connected to the use of synthetic cannabinoids. The deaths are among 107 reported incidences of individuals who experienced severe bleeding after using these products that also are known as fake weed, K2, or spice.1 

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made, mind-altering chemicals that have similar properties to those found in the marijuana plant. Sprayed onto dried plant material, they can be smoked or are sold as liquids to be vaporized in e-cigarettes. Synthetic cannabinoids can be bought across the United States in convenience stores, drug paraphernalia shops, and novelty stores, as well as at gas stations and online.1 

Individuals sickened by the use of synthetic cannabinoids are reporting bleeding gums, blood in the urine, coughing up blood, internal bleeding, severe bloody noses, or a combination of these adverse effects, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Many of these individuals have tested positive for brodifacoum, a lethal anticoagulant that is often used in rat poison.3

All 3 of the deaths associated with synthetic cannabinoids were men, 2 in their 20s and 1 in his 40s.1 The CDC and the IDPH previously issued warnings about the adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids, following 6 reports of severe bleeding between March 10 and 27. In a statement on April 9, Nirav D. Shah, MD, JD, director of the IDPH, said that the agency has since seen the number of cases rise daily.

“Synthetic cannabinoids are unsafe. They are not regulated, and people don’t know what chemicals may be in them, like rat poison,” he said in a statement. “While efforts are under way to get contaminated drugs out of circulation, it’s possible they could re-emerge. We urge people not to use synthetic cannabinoids, now or ever,” Shah said.

The CDC has concurred that the use of synthetic cannabinoids can lead to serious illness or death.2 In addition to severe bleeding, the CDC has said these products can affect brain function, causing agitation, concentration problems, confusion, dizziness, irritability, seizures, and sleepiness, as well as delusions, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior. Other health effects caused by synthetic cannabinoids can include breathing problems, gastrointestinal problems, heart attacks, hypertension, kidney failure, muscle damage, and strokes.2

Many synthetic cannabinoids are addictive, according to the CDC, and people who suddenly stop using them have reported adverse effects of withdrawal, including headaches, severe anxiety, and vomiting. Many synthetic cannabinoids also are illegal.2 The federal government, as well as local and state governments, have banned many specific synthetic cannabinoids, according to the CDC. Recent federal and state laws have also banned ingredients used in making synthetic cannabinoids.2 

The CDC and the IDPH are urging anyone who has a reaction to synthetic cannabinoids, including severe bleeding, to seek emergency medical treatment.

References
  1. Third death connected to synthetic Cannabinoids [news release]. Springfield, IL: Illinois Department of Public Health; April 9, 2018. http://dph.illinois.gov/news/third-death-connected-synthetic-cannabinoids. Accessed April 10, 2018.
  2. About synthetic cannabinoids. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 21, 2017. Accessed March 30, 2018.


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