Three people are dead and more than 100 are injured across Illinois due to the spread of synthetic marijuana mixed with a deadly chemical found in rate poison.
The cases began pouring into state hospitals at the beginning of March, with patients arriving suffering from severe bleeding. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are helping state workers investigate the outbreak and confirmed an additional seven cases linked to the use of fake marijuana, reported The Associated Press.
Synthetic pot, often sold under the names K2 and Spice, is a chemically manufactured product that mimics the psychoactive effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but with wide ranging and often “unpredictable” outcomes. It sparks seizures and strokes and may cause permanent cardiovascular damage and liver damage.
A number of patients tested positive for a chemical found in rat poison, as did samples of synthetic marijuana, officials said. They noted this is the first time a synthetic marijuana outbreak has been caused by contamination with rat poison, calling it “an unusual outbreak.”
“The number of cases continues to go up each day,” said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to The Associated Press. “Synthetic cannabinoids in general are not safe and this is one example of not knowing what chemicals are in the product. We are telling people don’t use synthetic cannabinoids.”
Officials with the CDC also warn they have identified additional cases of synthetic marijuana poisoning in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Maryland.
Emergency responders in Lancaster, Penn., previously received 65 calls reporting a drug overdose over a three-day period last summer, which authorities linked to synthetic marijuana. K2 sent 33 people to the hospital in New York in July 2016 in what a witness described as “a scene out of a zombie movie.”
Researchers at the CDC say synthetic marijuana users are more likely to experiment with narcotics like heroin and generally engage in riskier behavior than their peers. Synthetic marijuana use is associated with greater aggression and violent behavior when compared to non-users and regular marijuana smokers, they also note.
Synthetic marijuana is marketed to a younger crowd and packaging normally claims the product is a blend of natural herbs. Officials fear this is misleading unassuming youths who may think the substance only carries the minimal risks associated with marijuana.
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