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United States

One dead and 38 in hospital as synthetic marijuana laced with rat poison leads to users bleeding from their mouths and eyes 

Those who have been hospitalised obtained the products in convenience stores, from dealers and friends

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 3:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 4:38am

At least one person has died and 38 people have been taken to hospital in Illinois after a form of synthetic marijuana led to users bleeding from the mouths, eyes and elsewhere, state officials said.

“Most of what we are seeing is spontaneous bleeding of the gums or nose, in the stool and urine,” said Dr Patrick Lank, a medical toxicologist who works at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. 

That, experts said, may be because the drug contains rat poison – this despite some users buying it in convenience stores.

The death comes as Illinois continues to see an increase in the number of people reporting severe bleeding after using a synthetic cannabinoid product. 

Synthetic cannabinoid, often called Spice or K2, is a man-made mixture of hundreds of chemicals that affect the same brain cell receptors as the main ingredient in marijuana. 

If you use synthetic drugs, you’re playing Russian roulette with your life
Cara Smith, spokeswoman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office

The substance is sometimes used as a spray on plant material for smoking, or sold as liquids to be vaporised and inhaled in e-cigarettes or other devices, according to a warning from the Illinois Department of Health.

Because the substance contains a variety of chemicals, users often do not know the mixture contains rat poison, according to the health department.

There is a statewide ban on specific formulas of synthetic marijuana, but manufacturers could be slightly changing the formula to sidestep the law and get the products sold, said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the health department. 

Those who have been hospitalised obtained the products in convenience stores, from dealers and friends, she said.

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Consumption of synthetic cannabinoids previously has caused serious health problems such as seizures and kidney failure, but the side effect of severe bleeding is tied to the recent outbreak, said Dr Lank said.

Exposure to brodifacoum, the chemical believed to be tied to the recent outbreak, causes the body to block its natural use of Vitamin K, which helps in the process of blood clotting, Lank said. 

A person who has been exposed to this type of poison would have to take Vitamin K for weeks to months to help manage their symptoms. 

How quickly someone’s body could eliminate brodifacoum varies on a case-by-case basis because it is dependent on the quantity consumed and how the poison was ingested.

Adolescents are at a high risk to be exposed to the outbreak because synthetic cannabinoid products are typically easier to obtain than marijuana, Lank said.

It also does not have an odour and it is not typically detected on urine drug tests, he said.

As of Saturday, at least 38 people had been hospitalised in the Chicago area and in central Illinois, according to public health officials. The person who died has not been publicly identified.

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There were 10 cases reported in Chicago and four others in Cook County, according to the Department of Health. Three of the hospitalised people tested positive for brodifacoum, more commonly known as rat poison.

All 38 people went to hospitals after experiencing some form of severe bleeding, according to the health department. 

Their symptoms included blood in the urine, severe bloody noses, bleeding gums, coughing up blood or blood coming from the eyes and ears. It also could cause heavier menstrual bleeding.

Cara Smith, spokeswoman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, said the office was working with state officials to get more information about the origin of the synthetic pot contributing to the outbreak.

“If you use synthetic drugs, you’re playing Russian roulette with your life,” Smith said. “It’s that serious.”