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Synthetic marijuana caused 155 poisonings and 4 deaths in Illinois

A woman in her 30s from central Illinois has become the fourth victim of synthetic marijuana or fake weed in over a month. Prior to this, two Illinois men (one in his 20s and another in his 40s) along with a man from Chicago had died from consuming fake weed. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), as on April 25, 2018, the Department had received 155 cases from 13 counties, including four deaths, linked to synthetic cannabinoid products. Most victims are from Tazewell County and Peoria County. According to the Department, individuals were found sick after consuming synthetic weed, believed to be laced with rat poison, and landed up in emergency rooms. Some of the common symptoms they experienced were blood in urine, nose or gums, internal bleeding and bleeding while coughing.

On an examination, health care officials discovered that the patients were suffering from brodifacoum, a chemical found in rat poison that prevents blood from clotting resulting in severe bleeding. As per IDPH, individuals obtained synthetic weed from convenience stores, dealers and friends. Though synthetic weed is readily available, it is not regulated and people are often unaware of the substances used in it. Following the outbreak, the state health officials have warned that the products are deadly, urging people to stay away from them.

Synthetic cannabinoids are more dangerous than non-synthetic cannabis

Also known as “Spice,” “AK-47,” and “K2,” synthetic cannabinoids are man-made chemicals that are either sprayed on dried shredded plant material, mixed with tea or food, or inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices. Such products are often marketed as safe, legal alternatives to the chemicals found in original marijuana plant. The fake chemicals attach themselves to the same receptors in the brain as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active component in marijuana. The difference lies in the way these chemicals bond with the receptors. While the THC weakly attaches itself to the receptors and is then released quickly, compounds in synthetic marijuana attach themselves fiercely to those receptors and do not let go off quickly, making the effects more potent. Synthetic cannabis is part of a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances (NPS) and may affect the brain in an unpredictable way. The long-term effects of weed (synthetic cannabinoid) may cost someone his/her life.

According to IDPH, high doses of vitamin K can help restore the blood’s ability to clot. Patients are treated with intravenous transfusions of the vitamin followed by regular intake of pills. Illinois has received a donation of nearly 800,000 tablets of the life-saving vitamin from the Bausch Foundation to treat patients poisoned by synthetic cannabis. According to IDPH Director Nirav Shah, those affected by rat poison may need to take high doses of vitamin K for up to six months that could run into thousands of dollars, “this donation will allow every individual who has experienced severe bleeding, as well as any future cases, to receive lifesaving treatment free of charge.”

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