Since the recent warning about synthetic cannabinoids from the Illinois Department of Public Health, there have now been over 100 reported cases in Illinois, along with two reported deaths, due to severe bleeding by victims who had used what is often called “fake weed,” “spice,” “K2,” or even “Bliss,” “Blaze It Mango,” or loads of additional names. (go to https://spiceaddictionsupport.org/street-names-for-synthetic-marijuana/
These synthetic cannabinoids are often available for purchase in convenience stores, truck stops, tobacco stores, or even old fashioned “head shops.” Why is it possible to purchase these items legally? Regulatory Compliance Manager Armando Reyes of the Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Division says the manufacture of man-made drugs by chemists can trace all the way back to the 60s, when THC was first isolated from marijuana. Since then, especially in recent years, the chemists, both large and small operations, always seem to be one step ahead of law enforcement.
“The laws keep changing and the chemicals keep changing. Our information shows that in just the last half-dozen years, the dynamics of the chemical breakdown in these products have adjusted to changed laws at least six times.”
Once purchased, the synthetic cannabinoids can be sprayed on dried plant materials for smoking, or used as a liquid to be vaporized in e-cigarettes or similar devices. Although arrests have been made in response to these recent cases, arrests for sold synthetic cannabinoids that test for being illegal usually occur after someone is already hurt. “There is no quality control here,” Reyes stated. “And while marijuana and cocaine are natural products that are altered to be used as drugs, these man-made drugs are designed with the purpose of altering your mind and body.”
Another important point is that synthetics can be just like the standard illegal drugs: you never know what you are actually purchasing. Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin, and others are often laced with something very dangerous to stretch out the supply. In addition, sometimes a user ends up with a completely different product. For example, several years ago, there were victims who thought they were using Heroin, but ended up taking the flesh-eating drug crocodile, which was often traced to Russia.
Health Department Behavioral Health Director Dr. Joe Troiani says “it is never unusual for something to be put into the street drug or synthetic drug as ‘filler,’ increasing the supply with a variety of other substances.” And sure enough, nine tested cases involving the synthetic cannabinoids were shown to include a chemical often used to kill rats.
The explanation for the profuse bleeding caused by the synthetic drugs, which Reyes says often involves wounds that already exist, or the teeth and gums and nose, can be traced to a reaction inside the body. Health Department Epidemiologist Alpesh Patel says the reaction is often the loss of something in the body very important to helping keep bleeding under control, Vitamin K.
“It causes a Vitamin K deficiency leading to excessive bleeding due to failure of normal fibrin clot formation. There are hundreds of synthetic products that can contain these dangerous chemicals. This appears to have been a very dangerous shipment. If it is widely distributed, we could have a multi-state outbreak.”
As Reyes and Dr. Troiani emphasized, the battle against synthetic drugs is just as bad as the battle against illegal drugs. And often, they all have related business ties. “These man-made drugs are often manufactured out of the country,” Dr. Troiani explained. “They can be traced back to major drug cartels, of which three have a solid presence around Chicago; as well as to mom and pop operations.”
Reyes agreed. “These people making the synthetics are very proficient chemists. They design products made to mimic the effects of cannabis. The problem is, numerous side effects are created in the process. Besides bleeding, you can have seizures, increased heart rates, suicidal thoughts, depression, and much more.”
The best approach, Dr. Troiani and Reyes stated, is definitely education. And first and foremost, the danger of putting any foreign substances into your body continues to be the number one point. Unfortunately, as Reyes reminds us, there is often a simple lack of fear. “We would think that if folks hear about a product that killed people, they’d shy away from it. But the way people often thinks is, ‘that must be great stuff, let’s go try it.’”
There is no FDA regulation over these products. Could there be? Reyes says, the way the formulas are always being changed, that would be very hard to do. “It would definitely take a major campaign, but then again 70 percent of the vitamins on the market are not FDA regulated either. The vitamins might claim to do certain things, but it’s up to the consumer to beware.”
And if there were FDA regulation, the next step might be more “fake packaging.” Another story Dr. Troiani and Reyes told is that sometimes synthetic cannabinoids are disguised as a non-edible product, such as incense. “There might even be a tag that says ‘not for human consumption,’” Dr. Troiani explained. “But there’s a wink-wink, nod-nod relationship between the customer and the clerk, and the purchase is made.”
For more on synthetic cannabinoids, go to http://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/prevention-wellness/medical-cannabis/synthetic-cannabinoids