A new alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed doctors to watch out for patients suffering from unexplained bleeding, as they might be additional cases in a nationwide spike in illnesses related to substances marketed as synthetic marijuana.
According to the Associated Press, “fake marijuana” likely contaminated with rat poison has already killed three people in Illinois and made over 100 people sick. The CDC has been trying to help officials in Illinois figure out what’s going on. The outbreak — which began in early March — has reached a total of at least 118 cases in Illinois, with others being reported across the country.
Both the sickened people and the synthetic substance they consumed have tested positive for brodifacoum, a lethal anticoagulant often used in rat poison.
This outbreak has reached such proportions that the Illinois Department of Public Health is updating the number of cases on their website every day for the duration of the outbreak. The IDPH initially sent out a warning to urgent care providers on Mar. 29, noting they were likely to be the first healthcare providers to encounter these patients. The department’s goal was to prevent anyone with mystery bleeding from being sent home too early.
The three deaths have occurred in the last two weeks. When the IDPH alerted the state’s coroners to what was going on last month, the department told the coroners that people who had been impacted by the outbreak wouldn’t necessarily fail postmortem drug testing. Since the coroners started keeping an eye out last month, the three deaths have been reported.
“Each day we’ve seen the number of cases rise,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah on Monday in a statement announcing the third death. “Synthetic cannabinoids are unsafe. They are not regulated and people don’t know what chemicals may be in them, like rat poison. While efforts are underway to get the contaminated drugs out of circulation, it’s possible they could re-emerge. We urge people not to use synthetic cannabinoids now or ever.”
Many would say the existence of “synthetic cannabinoids” is a direct consequence of the prohibition of marijuana.
We reached out to some of the nation’s leading cannabis policy minds to get their take on the situation.
“Calling these products ‘fake pot’ or ‘synthetic marijuana’ is egregious mislabeling,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now. “These substances hold no true commonalities with organic marijuana other than both are often consumed by smoking. These deceptive products are made by applying unknown and dangerous compounds to raw plant matter and sold to individuals who typically would have chosen the relatively low-harm option of actual cannabis, if it weren’t for prohibition.”
Altieri went on to point out the similarities between this incident and the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and noted that the victims of the outbreak are people living under cannabis prohibition.
“Much like the deaths associated with bathtub gin during alcohol prohibition, Americans are suffering and dying from the effects of consuming these sinister products that are created to prey on those who are at risk for workplace drug testing or are afraid of the legal ramifications of consuming a plant that is still illegal federally and in the majority of states,” said Altieri.
Altieri expects real cannabis will shoot the synthetic market down.
“Once marijuana is legalized nationwide, there will be no market for these synthetics and I expect they, along with the dangers they present, will disappear rather quickly,” said Altieri. “The blame for these incidents falls squarely on the companies peddling this despicable product and on state and federal officials who perpetuate our ongoing failed prohibition of cannabis.”
The Marijuana Policy Project’s Director of Communications Morgan Fox had similar views on the future of synthetic pot.
“I have no doubt that use of these substances would decrease among adults if marijuana were legal, and if employers and the military would stop kicking people out based on marijuana consumption on their private time,” said Fox.
Fox also noted the DEA’s continuing struggle to stay abreast of new drug developments and schedule or ban new substances as they become more popular leads illicit manufacturers to alter the formula to something that is not scheduled.
“This is a huge contributing factor to the negative public health impacts we are seeing involving these substances,” said Fox. “Basically, everyone is responsible here.”
TELL US, have you heard of the dangers of “synthetic marijuana”?