In the past few years, many parts of the United States have legalized the use of marijuana for medical use and some have also legalized it for leisure. This trend is expected to continue and come to head against federal policies that still classify marijuana as an illegal drug.
For those parts of the country that do not have legal access to marijuana, many people turn to illegal dealers to acquire the drug for many reasons.
Part of dealing with the currently illegal industry is the creation and sale of synthetic marijuana for use. These products, which are generally more potent and dangerous than natural marijuana, are being sold in both legal and illegal markets.
As of April 4th, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has gotten reports of 81 cases of synthetic marijuana usage linked to severe bleeding. This is all linked to an outbreak that started at the beginning of March 2018 as individuals purchased marijuana that appeared to contaminated with the synthetic marijuana causing the bleeding.
The IDPH notes that individuals using the synthetic drug suffer from severe bleeding from soft tissues and various orifices (nose, eyes, and ears). Some individuals also experience heavy menstrual bleeding. Blood has also been found in vomit, urine, feces, and when coughing.
The majority of cases have been found in Chicago (23) and Peoria County (22) and the other cases are spread throughout various counties. The cases are spread across various age groups with those between 25-34 having the most cases (27) and ages 15-24 (16) right behind it.
So far 2 individuals have died as a direct result of the bleeding. IDPH is advising anyone who purchased some form of synthetic marijuana in the past month to not use it as it may be contaminated. They are also advising that if you are experiencing any of these related bleeding symptoms to call 911 or go to a hospital for immediate treatment.
It remains unclear what particular component of the synthetic drug is causing the severe bleeding and officials are investigating it.
In a memo that was released by the IDPH as well as a report by the Chicago Tribune, some of the affected individuals started bleeding because their bodies stopped using vitamin K.
Vitamin K is important for coagulation and clotting of blood in our bodies. The Chicago Tribune reported that some of the affected individuals had brodifacoum in their bodies. which is used as a poison to kill rats because it inhibits vitamin K’s abilities.
Synthetic marijuana products are human-made chemicals that are meant to replicate the high of natural marijuana products. The synthetic chemicals are referred to as cannabinoids because they are similar, but not the same, as their natural counterparts.
This similarity is exploited by those who want to market and sell the drug. They make the claim that it is a true synthetic version of marijuana, which it is not. They also claim that it is safe and legal. Many synthetic marijuana products are K2, spice, AK-47, and Mr. Happy.
As reported by the CDC, synthetic cannabinoids are similar to illegal marijuana products in that they are made without regulation, without control of what is inside each batch and without regards for the safety and well-being of the buyer.
These synthetic products can be found in various forms that include e-cigarettes or dried plants that have been sprayed with the product. Because they are not marijuana, they are also sometimes sold as incense or herbal remedy.
Regardless of what they are called or what form they come in, they are far from safe. They can be far more powerful and potent than marijuana and can become unpredictable or life-threatening, which is what is happening now.
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They remain in a legal grey area because they are not exactly marijuana, but are a psychoactive substance. Many of the synthetic products are banned and illegal, however, some remain legal because the particular chemical they are composed of is not exactly illegal based on the guidelines of the law.
Some synthetic makers try to skirt the law by labeling their products as “not for human consumption.” Some even try to slightly change their main chemicals to bypass ingredients that are banned.
As they try to find additional ways to distribute and market their products, federal and state laws are now setting their eyes on these synthetic products by passing laws that target a general category of ingredients rather than specific ones.
Outbreaks And Other Problems
This is not the first time that synthetic marijuana has led to a dangerous outbreak. In 2016, 33 individuals died because of a suspected overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana brand. It is an illegal product, banned in 2014, that continues to be found in the United States and around the world. There are still deaths linked to the usage of K2.
In 2017, New Zealand saw numerous deaths associated with K2. It was made illegal in 2014, but authorities in New Zealand has seen it spread across the black market with demands continuing despite the deaths.
K2 has been found to have numerous side effects that include heart attacks, seizures, and hallucinations. Like many synthetic cannabinoids, K2 is highly addictive and potent, which is very much unlike natural marijuana.
As with any new drugs on the market, synthetic marijuana products are vastly under-researched and we do not know as much as we need to know.
With their potency, numerous side effects, and addictive nature, it is important that we begin studying these synthetic drugs so that we can find ways of combatting their deadly nature.
The United States is already facing an opioid epidemic and other drug problems so it is in our best interest to stem the tide of this problem before it joins these other epidemics that are plaguing communities and the healthcare system.