Synthetic pot leads to hospital spike

2015-05-08 21:20

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Hartford - A huge spike in hospitalizations last month caused by a class of drugs often called "synthetic marijuana" illustrates the potency and dangers of the chemicals used to make them and the shifty tactics authorities believe manufacturers are using to evade regulation.

Poison control centres around the US reported 359 cases in January of illnesses from synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana but can be far more potent. There were 273 in February and 269 in March. But the number sky-rocketed to just over 1 500 in April, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centres.

"This is the worst outbreak of drug abuse that I've lived through," said Dr Steven Marcus, executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System at the New Jersey Medical School at Rutgers University, who has been monitoring the recent spike. "It's almost as if someone had made a witches' brew of these cannabinoids. This is not just powerful marijuana. This is really dangerous stuff that has effects that can be life-threatening."

A potential common link in last month's spike is a compound called MAB-CHMINACA, Marcus told The Associated Press in an interview. The compound was found during tests of synthetic marijuana seized by police in several states where people became ill, he said.

All 50 states have banned cannabinoids by outlawing specific compounds since 2011, and a federal law in 2012 added certain cannabinoids to the US controlled substances list, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

MAB-CHMINACA is relatively new and hasn't been banned in many states or by the federal government. A similar compound, AB-CHMINACA, emerged in the illicit drug market last year and was declared an illegal controlled substance in January under a temporary order by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA says a major problem has been chemical makers, including many in Asia, slightly changing chemical compounds so they're no longer banned controlled substances.

Synthetic marijuana usually is non-marijuana plant material sprayed with cannabinoids and marketed under brand names like Spice, K2 and Scooby Snax. It emerged in the US around 2008 and became readily available in small retail outlets like convenience stores and head shops, as well as on the Internet, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

It generally costs about $30 per 3g package, similar to marijuana. Many brands list "not for consumption" on the small packages in an apparent attempt to avoid regulation, authorities say.

It became popular because it was easy to buy, people wrongly thought was harmless and its chemicals aren't detected on standard drug tests, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says. But it can be more potent than regular marijuana and can cause vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, elevated blood pressure, loss of consciousness and death, health officials say.

This week in the Willimantic, Connecticut, area, about a dozen people became ill and five were hospitalized after taking K2 believed to be laced with the hallucinogen PCP, police said. The five have been discharged.

Willimantic police began receiving calls on Monday morning of people exhibiting psychotic behaviour after smoking the drug.

"We've seen people running around without shirts, running down main thoroughfares within the city, asking for help," said police Cpl Stanley Parizo Jr.

In New York City, there were more than 120 emergency-room visits linked to synthetic pot during a little more than a week last month, compared with an average of two to three visits a day earlier this year, according to the city Health Department.

Overdoses last month killed two people and sent several others to the hospital in Mississippi; killed one person and sickened two others in Virginia; sent nearly 100 people to the hospital in Alabama; and resulted in more than 30 hospitalizations in New Jersey. More than 100 overdose cases have been reported in Nebraska in the past few weeks, with many users ending up in emergency rooms.

Health officials and police believe "tweaked" formulas may be responsible for the rash of hospitalizations.

Recent testing of synthetic marijuana seized by police in around America have turned up a variety of substances, with many samples testing positive for MAB-CHMINACA, said Marcus, citing reports by the DEA's National Forensic Laboratory Information System, which collects test results from state and local forensic labs across the country.

Carreno said she could not confirm or deny the results, citing ongoing criminal investigations.

Read more on:    dea  |  us  |  narcotics

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.