Category Archives: Marijuana

Synthetic Pot Tied to Surge of Emergency Cases

Colorado patients were delirious, combative, had seizures and breathing problems

Doctors in Colorado are sounding an alarm about the dangers of synthetic marijuana after seeing a surge of emergency cases tied to its use. The products, sold under names like Black Mamba, Crazy Clown, K2 and Spice, sent at least 263 people for emergency treatment statewide over a one-month period last year.

“At the end of August, we started noting that patients were coming in with a very severe clinical illness,” said Dr. Andrew Monte, an assistant professor in emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. Monte said patients were delirious; they were fighting medical staff. Their pulses were racing and many went on to have seizures. Seven patients were put on ventilators in the intensive care unit after they developed trouble breathing. All survived. Monte said the cases they counted before the outbreak ended Sept. 19 were probably just a fraction of the total. “All these kinds of toxicologic outbreaks are far underreported, for a couple of reasons,” he said.

First, not everybody who got sick went to the hospital. Monte thinks most people would try to stay at home and wait out the bad reaction, especially if their symptoms weren’t as severe. Second, some patients probably weren’t asked about drug use or wouldn’t admit to it, making the final case count lower than it really was, he noted.

The surge in cases was reported in a letter published Jan. 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the Dec. 13 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado isn’t the only state to see a rise in poisonings tied to synthetic pot.

According to an earlier report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency department visits associated with use of synthetic pot more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, with the case count increasing from about 11,400 to more than 28,500 nationwide.

Synthetic marijuana is dried plant material that has been sprayed with laboratory-created psychoactive chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It’s sold in gas stations and head shops as an herbal product. But experts say there’s nothing natural about it. “This is much closer to meth [methamphetamine] than it is to marijuana,” said Mike Van Dyke, chief of environmental epidemiology and occupational health at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver. “This is not a natural product. This is a chemical,” said Van Dyke, who was involved in tracking the outbreak.

What’s more, Van Dyke said, consumers never really know what they’re buying.

“It’s different from batch to batch. The whole chemical can be completely different from batch to batch, and you just don’t know what you’re getting when you buy these things,” he said. “It’s very dangerous.” Monte said most of the synthetic marijuana users treated in the ER last fall were men, and the majority were in their late 20s.

He said the typical user seems to be a person who needs to beat a drug test. The chemicals in synthetic marijuana aren’t easily detected in the blood or urine. For that reason, both experts said they didn’t think synthetic marijuana use would drop now that the real thing could be legally purchased in the state.

Although synthetic marijuana is illegal under Drug Enforcement Agency law, Monte said the drug makers get around that by changing the chemicals and packaging.


Teen left brain damaged and blind after smoking synthetic marijuana

A teenage girl has narrowly avoided death after smoking ‘synthetic marijuana’ that she bought from a gas station and suffering a series of strokes.

Seventeen-year-old Emily Bauer, from Cypress, Texas, has been left with brain damage, paralysis and is unable to see after taking the synthetic weed with friends last December. Her family is now hoping to raise awareness of the dangers of the substance, which is often labelled as ‘potpourri’, while campaigners battle for stricter laws to make it illegal across the country.

Fake weed, which is also known as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2’, is an herbal mixture doused with chemicals that trigger a high similar to smoking marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is often sold as incense or potpourri, and is advertised as a legal alternative to weed. While many states have outlawed it, manufacturers have responded by slightly changing the compound so that it can return to shelves. Emily smoked the drug last December with friends and within 15 minutes, she told her boyfriend she was suffering from a migraine and needed to lay down.

She suffered a series of strokes which left her in a psychotic-like state, during which she urinated on herself, ran into walls, hallucinated and acted violently, her sister told CNN’s iReport. The police were called to help restrain her into an ambulance, and she was taken to Northwest Cypress Hospital, where she bit guardrails and attempted to bite medical staff.

‘We thought once she comes down off the drug, we’d take her home and show her the dangers of this drug,’ her older sister, Blake, said. ‘We didn’t think it was as big of a deal until 24 hours later she was still violent and hurting herself. We realized you’re not supposed to stay high this long.’

She was put into an induced coma as doctors carried out tests on her brain. Doctors soon found Emily’s strokes had caused severe vasculitis, meaning contracting blood vessels had constricted the flow of blood and cut off oxygen to her brain. ‘In four days’ time, we went from thinking everything is going to be OK and we’ll put her in drug rehabilitation to now you don’t know if she’s going to make it,’ stepfather Tommy Bryant told CNN.

Synthetic marijuana, which is known as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2’, is an herbal mixture sprayed with chemicals that create a high similar to smoking marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Advertised as a ‘legal’ alternative to weed, it’s often sold as incense or potpourri. When many states outlawed the drug, manufacturers slightly changed the compound so they were no longer illegal. It was linked to 11,406 drug-related emergency department visits in 2010, a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found. Most were aged 12 to 17.

The first state laws banning synthetic drugs were established in 2010. Now at least 41 states have banned them, but that has not deterred the manufacturers. ‘These drug manufacturers slightly change the chemical compound, and it becomes a different substance that’s not covered by the law,’ said NCSL policy specialist Alison Lawrence.

Common side effects from smoking synthetic marijuana include bloodshot eyes, disturbed perceptions, a change in mood, paranoia, raised blood pressure or hallucinations.

Doctors soon found Emily’s blood vessels were expanding again and while the family saw it as a sign of improvement, pressure on the teenager’s brain grew rapidly – and dangerously. Surgeons had to drill a hole in her skull and insert a tube to relieve pressure. But her brain was still affected. ‘We met with Neurology team who showed us Emily’s brain images,’ her mother, Tonya Bauer, said. ‘They told us that all white areas on images were dead. It looked to us at least 70 per cent of the images were white.’ Doctors said Emily would not be able to recognise her family and would never be able to use her arms or legs again. With this heart-breaking news, Emily’s parents made the tough decision to take out her breathing tube and stopped all nourishment on December 16 – but she continued to fight.

As her mother went to her room one morning, she said, ‘Good morning, I love you’ and was stunned to hear a hoarse voice saying: ‘I love you too.’ ‘Even though she couldn’t move, is blind, and could hardly be aware of what was going on around her, she laughed with us as we made jokes and listened to her soft whisper replies,’ Blake said. ‘It is my little sister shining through, in every way she can manage, with every ounce of strength.’

The family does not know how much control she will recover, but she is already moving her arms and legs, and two weeks ago she started eating solid food again. Emily’s parents have started a nonprofit organization called Synthetic Awareness For Emily to educate teenagers and parents about the dangers of synthetic marijuana use.

‘We want to let kids and parents know about the warnings signs: migraines and withdrawal,’ Bryant said. ‘We all know the warning signs of alcohol and cocaine, but with this synthetic weed stuff, it’s so new that nobody knows about this stuff. We want to let other parents know about this so they don’t have to go what we’ve been going through.’

Bryant said he knew Emily used real marijuana occasionally, and told her she would be grounded if he ever caught her smoking.

‘Had I thought that there was any chance that she could have been hurt by this stuff, I would have been a lot more vigilant. I had no idea it was so bad,’ Bryant told CNN. ‘I’d never have thought we’d be in this situation. If she had bought it off the street or from a corner, that’s one thing, but she bought it from convenience store.’

For more information about the family’s nonprofit organization, Synthetic Awareness For Emily (SAFE), visit their Facebook page.

If you are currently using synthetic marijuana and want to stop:
Call 1-800-662-HELP in the U.S. to reach a free referral helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.