The Dangers of Smoking Synthetic Cannabis

What is Fake Weed?

No matter what you call it – Spice, K2, fake weed, synthetic cannabinoids – it’s bad news: fake weed has been tied to two fatalities and numerous medical incidents. And that’s just in Illinois this spring.

Everyone affected by the latest outbreak was hospitalized. The symptoms – all symptoms of uncontrolled bleeding – ranged from coughing up blood to blood in the urine, from bloody noses to bleeding out of the gums and ears.

Rat poison has been found in synthetic cannabisNine of those who were hospitalized tested positive for rat poison, begging the question that – if rat poison was included in at least some of the concoctions – what else was there?

Though problems from synthetic weed aren’t new, outbreaks are. Illinois officials are scratching their heads at the magnitude and warning those ingesting synthetic cannabinoids: if you start to have a reaction, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

A State-Wide Issue

Illinois has had two synthetic cannabis related deaths this springMany of the cases, seventeen of them, were linked to fake weed purchased in Chicago – one of the deaths was also in Chicago. The other fatality occurred in Central Illinois and the problem does indeed seem state-wide. Five of the incidents took place in Cook County, fourteen in Peoria County, two in Kankakee Country, twelve in Tazewell County and one in DuPage, McLean, Kane, and Will counties.

Of course, Illinois doesn’t have the market cornered on this: Maryland is experiencing problems as well. The distance between Chicago and Baltimore is around 700 miles, which makes it likely that other instances will pop up and not only in specific regions.

The situation in Maryland is far from an outbreak: so far, only one person has been affected. But it’s dangerous, nonetheless.

This person, who is from central Maryland, experienced uncontrolled bleeding after ingesting synthetic pot. Officials there seem to be linking it to rat poison.

Mike Gumbel, a substance misuse consultant, went on record to say,

“[Fake weed is] a dangerous drug to begin with, much more dangerous than regular marijuana even.”

Spice can have cannabis in it but also has harmful componentsThis is due to what it’s mixed with. Fake weed can have real marijuana, but then a variety of other contaminants are added too. It’s those – the things like rat poison – and not the true blue cannabis that are doing the damage.

People who ingest fake weed might not be able to tell the difference initially – it may smell and feel like the real thing. But it can lead to unexplained bleeding that may persist for weeks.

In 2017, an outbreak occurred in another part of the United States: more than a hundred people were affected in Pennsylvania (all survived). More than thirty people overdosed on fake weed in New York in 2016. The scene played out like a movie, with dozens of people collapsing on city sidewalks within minutes and hours of each other.

The nation, as a whole, has seen a spike in overdoses involving synthetic cannabinoids in recent years.

Fake Weed, Explained

So, we know that it’s not something you want to ingest, but what exactly is fake weed and why are people using it?

To answer the second question, first: there are a few different reasons people are using fake weed. One reason is the misconception that fake cannabis is safer than the real thing. It might sound ridiculous, but it’s a common school of thought: many of us happily fill our coffee cups with packets of Splenda, believing it’s healthier than plain old sugar.

Fake weed, it turns out, is much more dangerous than cannabis, an herb that is rather benign.  Officials are speaking out against its dangers and warning others to refrain from its use: it’s not safe. Period. Even so, people continue to use it.

Another reason for this is that’s it’s often easier to obtain than actual pot. Sure, you can buy recreational weed in a handful of states, but not in Illinois or Maryland. Fake weed, on the other hand, can be purchased at convenience stores. In fact, the outbreak mentioned above resulted in the arrest of three workers at a Chicago-area convenience store.

This is an active ingredient in rat poisonThey stand accused of selling fake weed laced with a blood-thinner called brodifacoum, an ingredient commonly found in rat poison. They sold the “pot” under the names “Crazy Monkey” and “Blue Giant.” It’s estimated that the workers sold 50-60 packets to customers each day.

A third reason people continue to use it is because of curiosity – a reason people use hard drugs (like heroin or cocaine) knowing the innate dangers. Fake weed is rumored to be much more potent than the real thing (up to 85 times more potent), stroking the “I have to try that” reflex some people have.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine described its effects as follows:

“The potency of the synthetic cannabinoid identified in these analyses is consistent with strong depressant effects that account for the “zombielike” behavior reported in this mass intoxication. AMB-FUBINACA is an example of the emerging class of “ultrapotent” synthetic cannabinoids and poses a public health concern. Collaboration among clinical laboratory staff, health professionals, and law enforcement agencies facilitated the timely identification of the compound and allowed health authorities to take appropriate action.”

Fake weed is easy to consume – it can be smoked or vaped like regular herb. And that may make it enticing for those who want to see what all the fuss is about.

Bleeding isn’t the Only Side Effect

However, those who try it are indeed playing with their health: bleeding is what we’re seeing now, but it’s deemed a “new” side effect. Other side effects from synthetic weed are just as unpleasant and dangerous.

Per the CDC, they include agitation, confusion, hallucinating, a fast heart rate, and vomiting. And those are the more minor results.

Some people also experience heart attacks, kidney failure, seizures, and death. The side effects vary based on what type of synthetic cannabinoid is consumed and what it’s laced with. They also likely vary from person to person: anyone with underlying health issues, especially heart conditions, has a higher risk of deadly outcomes than someone fit as a fiddle.

But, either way, fake weed isn’t something that’s worth the risk. When it comes to cannabis, you’re better off sticking to the real deal.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.