In the past few weeks, more and more people in Illinois found themselves hospitalized after taking synthetic “marijuana.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health issued a warning on March 27 about synthetic “weed” known as “spice,” “K2” or “Mind Trip.” At that time, there were six people who reported “severe bleeding” after taking the fake pot since March 7, according to the state department.
That number went up. Now, 56 people since March 10 were hospitalized for symptoms like excessive bleeding after they took the drug, according to The Chicago Tribune. That includes dozens of people who bled from their eyes and ears, state officials say, and another two people who died after taking “K2.”
Dr. Melissa Millewich, an emergency room physician at an Illinois hospital, said bleeding from your eyes and ears is a new symptom for the drug, which some erroneously view as a safe alternative to pot.
“This bleeding is not expected,” she told the newspaper, “at least in such a significant population so quickly.”
Now police say they might know why it was happening.
On Sunday, police arrested three workers at a Chicago convenience store — 48-year-old Fouad Masoud, 44-year-old Jad Allah and 44-year-old Adil Khan Mohammed — who they accuse of selling synthetic marijuana laced with brodifacoum, a blood thinner commonly found in rat poison. An undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration allegedly spoke with the workers at King Mini Mart and bought the drug, which was labeled “Blue Giant” and “Crazy Monkey,” according to WGN-TV.
A test found the rat poison ingredient inside this specific batch of “spice,” police say. At least nine people tested positive for brodifacoum after they took K2 and were hospitalized, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Before news broke of the men allegedly selling the fake pot laced with rat poison, Jerrold Leikin, director of toxicology at NorthShore University HealthSystem, guessed that someone put a blood thinner in this specific batch of “spice.”
“I guess that’s why they call it illicit drugs,” he said, “because you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Every day, workers at the Chicago convenience store sold between 50 to 60 packets of the drug, police told ABC News, and Masoud was arrested with $280,000. Police say they found 2,900 grams of synthetic marijuana at the 48-year-old’s apartment.
All three men face charges of conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, a controlled substance, ABC News wrote.
Synthetic marijuana was first sold in the U.S. in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and poison centers received 7,794 calls from people who took the drug in 2015.
In July, over 100 people overdosed on so-called synthetic pot in a Pennsylvania county over the span of just three days, CNN reported, but no one died. And in 2015, around 700 people in Mississippi reported overdosing after taking the fake marijuana. At least 11 people died in that case.
The Illinois Department of Public Health warned that the effects of “spice” “are not safe and may affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana,” according to Fox32.
The risk that comes with taking “spice” is compounded by the fact that it is “not one drug, but hundreds of different chemicals manufactured and sold,” the Illinois Department of Public health wrote.
“These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they act on the same brain cell receptors as the main active ingredient in marijuana,” the department’s press release read. “Synthetic cannabinoid products are unsafe. It is difficult to know what’s in them or what your reaction to them will be.”
You are urged to call 911 if you take a form of spice and experience adverse reactions, officials say.