Severe bleeding latest known health risk of synthetic pot

Medical experts have never considered the use of synthetic marijuana - sometimes called "K2" or "Spice" - to be safe, but recent cases of people bleeding from it may provide a new and even more clear-cut reason.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports 32 synthetic marijuana users have sought treatment since March 7 for such symptoms as coughing up blood, bleeding gums and blood in their urine.

Department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said most cases have been in the greater Chicago area, but several have been in central Illinois. The use of synthetic marijuana is certainly statewide, she said.

"K2 is everywhere," she added.

Synthetic marijuana's appeal likely grew from its initial status as a legal product and false perception as a safer alternative to real marijuana, Arnold said. However, she emphasized it's never been safe, especially as its manufacturers have constantly changed the chemical makeup as one ingredient after another was outlawed.

It's now illegal in Illinois.

"The bottom line is it's an unregulated product," Arnold said. "It's a banned substance with no regulation."

An anticoagulant, or blood thinner, is suspected to be an ingredient in the synthetic marijuana causing the bleeding problems, Arnold said. There also has been speculation the affected products have been laced with rat poison, as the symptoms are similar, she added.

While the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration is testing to search for a common guilty ingredient, the investigation is slowed by the reticence of some users to say where they got their synthetic pot and the possibility they're using products from different sources.

Some DuPage County victims claimed to have used a brand called Red Giant, but that hasn't been confirmed as the single source of the bleeding problem or ruled out others, said Mark Piccoli, director of the DuPage County Metropolitan Enforcement Group.

Paradoxically, past warnings have attracted greater interest in various products, rather than causing people to heed the danger, he added.

Piccoli said synthetic marijuana's heyday in Illinois ended roughly five years ago when it was declared illegal.

But it's still widely available on the black market. There also are some gas station and shop owners in out-of-the-way places who'll claim ignorance of the change in the law, he said.

Some varieties are packaged with a "Not For Consumption" label to create the impression they're intended as potpourri or incense, which made them easier to sell openly, he said.

Dr. Aaron Weiner, director of addiction services for Naperville-based Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, said he wasn't shocked by the Illinois Department of Public Health report.

"Synthetic cannabis has a terrible reputation for being very dangerous for you," he said.

Weiner explained synthetic marijuana doesn't come from a plant like regular marijuana. Instead, manufacturers spray chemical compounds onto plants so they can be turned into liquids or inhaled. The chemicals sprayed onto the plants are unknown, causing problems for people who take them.

Even before the recent reports of bleeding, some of the medical risks of synthetic marijuana have included seizures, kidney failure and hallucinations, Arnold said.

Synthetic marijuana, which includes such brand names as Wicked X, is the subject of an Illinois Department of Public Health warning after 32 people have reported bleeding after using it. The exact source of these new symptoms has not yet been found, though medical experts have always warned of health risks from synthetic marijuana. AP file photo, 2010
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.