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Chemical Health Hazard – Synthetic/Designer Drug Abuse: Florida, USA


Published Date: 2016-03-22 07:35:00
Subject: PRO/EDR> Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA: (FL)
Archive Number: 20160322.4110089

Date: Sun 20 Mar 2016
Source: Modern Readers [edited]

The country’s war on dangerous legal highs continues, as a fresh wave of synthetic cannabis overdoses causes concern among the healthcare community. Joining an ever-growing list of towns, cities and states across the US, law enforcement officials in St Petersburg, Florida have warned about an “unprecedented” spike in cases of hospitalizations due to the drug called “Spice” — a highly-potent and potentially lethal synthetic alternative to natural cannabis.

More than 20 emergency treatments were carried out due to adverse reactions to the drug between Thursday and Saturday [17-19 Mar 2016], local officials reported. Speaking on behalf of local law enforcement, Yolanda Fernandez said that those affected had presented with a range of severe symptoms, including powerful hallucinations, seizures, vomiting, and loss of consciousness.

No fatalities were reported, though the same cannot be said for the Spice overdose epidemic on a national scale. “The spice is unconfirmed because it must be verified in a lab, however, it is suspected,” she said. “Because we have so many people in one location who admitted to using spice, we feel confident that is what this is.”

Spice and similar products share no similarities with cannabis, in terms of their composition and effects, experts warn. Whereas marijuana is a natural product with a known make-up and predictable effects, synthetic cannabis is made by spraying a toxic cocktail of chemicals on dry plant matter of unknown origins. As such, every single batch has the potential to be 100 per cent different to the last. “It’s not like pot, where you always know what you’re getting,” Fernandez added. “It really varies.”

There’s been a dramatic spike in the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits triggered by adverse reactions to Spice across much of the US. According to figures published by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, over 1000 reports of dangerously adverse reactions to the drug were reported during a 3-month overdose epidemic in 2015. Having touched down in dozens of states and known to be causing a public health panic in New York City, health officials are now concerned that the fight against Spice is a fight they’re losing.

Also referred to as ‘Spike’, synthetic marijuana begins life as a herbal product only to then be coated in a variety of dangerous, toxic and often unknown chemicals, which are supposed to recreate the effects of cannabis when smoked. However, those using the substance often find themselves overwhelmed by terrifying and potentially lethal side effects.

“Synthetic drugs are anything but harmless, and this rash of severe health emergencies across the state is direct proof,” warned New York governor Andrew Cuomo. “We banned synthetic marijuana, bath salts and similar substances to avoid the disastrous results that occur — and as law enforcement and health officials continue to crack down on the use and sale of these drugs in New York, we are today issuing a health alert as a warning amidst this surge in hospitalizations.”

Hundreds of teenagers and adults are known to have sought emergency medical attention over recent weeks after smoking the synthetic marijuana substitute, which has to date been linked with at least three fatalities. Several states have spoken with concern over the widespread availability of the controlled substance, which delivers an incredibly powerful hit that can last for hours. Despite having been outlawed by the FDA some time ago, Spice is still readily available across the US and is becoming cheaper all the time. Unlike the high associated with cannabis, those seeking medical attention after taking spice reported terrifying feelings of paralysis, crippling nausea, disorientation, and dangerously accelerated heart rates.

[byline: Ed Jones]

communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts

[Marijuana contains THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. However, synthetic marijuana contains other ingredients and goes by a variety of names; among them K2, spice, mexxy, black mamba, fake weed, Yucatan fire, skunk, moon rocks, and others.

Some of these synthetic compounds are promoted as herbal products, with labels claiming they contain “natural” psychoactive material taken from a variety of plants. Spice products (and the others as well) may contain some dried plant material (not necessarily natural cannabis), but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds. However, tests have shown that it is not a single product. For example, black mamba contains synthetic cannabinoid AM-2001 and oleamide, an oleic acid. The synthetic cannabinoids are not THC, but the body reacts to them as if it were reacting to the cannabinoids in cannabis.

The variety of synthetic cannabinoids is large and apparently constantly shifting to avoid detection and regulation by law enforcement. Consequently, it also makes it much harder on the physicians to stabilize and treat an individual who has had an overdose, or even a reaction to a synthetic hallucinogen.

The UK and the US have regulated a number of these substances, including cannabicyclohexanol, JWH-018, JWH-073, or HU-210. These substances are illegal to possess or use and are considered banned substances with jail terms of varying lengths, depending upon which country’s laws are examined.

These synthetic substances produce a longer lasting response, potentially in some people unexpected psychotic episodes for the remainder of their life, and apparently can “hook” people within seconds, despite near-death experiences.

Some states in the US have legalized the use of natural cannabis products. Therefore, in an effort to extend the natural product, and produce a desirable and longer lasting “high,” the synthetic product may be added to the natural product and unsuspecting customers may suffer untoward effects and even death.

The sad commentary is that more people are likely to try this potentially more lethal synthetic version believing it may be safer, which is based on hearsay, not reality. – Mod.TG

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:]

See Also

Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – UK 20160112.3929799

Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA (04): (NY) 20150507.3346435
Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA (03): (LA) 20150501.3334873
Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA (02): (AL) 20150427.3324558
Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA: (NY) 20150419.3308552

Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – Russia: (KV, KM) 20140930.2819762
Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA: (CO) 20140127.2233681

Drug abuse, synthetic drugs – USA: (CO) contamination 20130830.1914246

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

The main issue with this whole category is that the user just doesn’t know what they’re taking or the strength of what they’re taking, and literally they are the guinea pigs, … We’re referring to these as the guinea pig drugs. Often the dealer might not even know what they’re selling.


Deaths From Synthetic Marijuana Use Rising Sharply in U.S.: CDC
Chemical analysis of synthetic cannabinoids as designer drugs in herbal products (PDF)
Synthetic cannabinoids and ‘Spice’ drug profile,  European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
K2, a Potent Drug, Casts a Shadow Over an East Harlem Block

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