An area in Minnesota has recently see a number of overdoses on synthetic marijuana. The overdoses have been concentrated in Minneapolis over the course of a recent 3-day period. In a mere 72 hours, over 40 people overdosed on synthetic marijuana. This is actually not such an odd occurrence, that has happened on a number of occasions in the last decade. And this incidence is an example of what occurs across the globe with unregulated drugs, with a bad batch making everybody sick and that can lead to death for some people.
The Minnesota Response
Cole, an emergency room and toxicology doctor at Hennepin County Medical Center, says the calls for help from K2 overdoses continue to pour into the poison control center. According to Cole:
“Historically in Minnesota when we have seen spikes since it first appeared in 2009 they usually last from days to weeks and tend to be concentrated in one geographical location…There are untold number of effects that are very, very different than typical marijuana intoxication or overdose with anything that is labeled K2”
The overdoses are happening across Minneapolis. Police say when this recent outbreak began Tuesday, officers responded to at least four overdoses near the Nicollet Mall light rail station. Three others had to be rushed to the ER after overdosing near 15th and Chicago Avenues.
What essentially happens is that, while all K2/synthetic marijuana is toxic, sometimes a particularly bad batch is lethal with too much of a certain ingredient (no regulation) which damages everybody who takes it, instead of the typical case where a certain individual responds badly to a substance for subjective reasons. Because of the fact that the makeup of K2 constantly changes, by the time that it is figured out, the manufacturer has changed the product and formula. There is really no way to chase down these criminals other than legalizing marijuana and providing extracts that are of a better quality. An added difficulty from the viewpoint of doctors (and, obviously, patients) is that the symptoms change from product to product. Some may lead to kidney failure, the next to an erratic heartbeat, another to seizures. Right now, doctors can only offer supportive care or keep the patient safe until the drug passes out of their system, which could take hours or sometimes days.Police are actively searching for the source, not knowing if this is a bad batch of the illegal drug or if someone is adding something else to the already dangerous K2.
What is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of herbs and spices that are sprayed with chemicals which is supposed to mimic the effects of cannabis. Synthetic marijuana is sometimes referred to as”K2”. Many were led to believe that K2 was legal which was not the case, and it resulted in a number of deaths. It is most certainly not FDA approved and is nothing like legal synthetic THC. The label does say “Not for human consumption”. New varieties are constantly brought onto the market under different guises in order to conceal what they are really for, in order to maintain their ”legality”. Similar to the “bath salts” which are meant to imitate MDMA with a similar label that they are not for human consumption. Synthetic marijuana is said to be like marijuana because it binds to the same series of receptors that the cannabis plant stimulates to give the user psychoactive effects. Unfortunately, as everybody is now aware, organic beats synthetic in every instance and is far safer and more holistic. There is also the real concern that synthetic cannabis is between two and one hundred times as potent as THC.
Synthetic marijuana is often sourced from China to manufacturers who prepare the blends using high proof alcohol. Much is likely to go wrong in the production process. An uneven spray on the product or an uneven mixture can easily cause a chemical hot spot. Chemistry is supposed to be a fine art with precise measurements in a laboratory, not rough approximations without appropriate measurements using basic equipment. The consumer who gets a batch with this chemical spot will have, at best, terrible side effects. Of course, a chemical hotspot is not the only way to create a bad batch, and there are really an infinite number of things that can go wrong with this delicate process, and they often do.
What can we do?
Unfortunately, there really is nothing that can be done to prevent these outbreaks, as they are already illegal and it is impossible to shut down the operators and track down the overseas suppliers. For numerous reasons it is very difficult to catch the criminals. There is no system of regulation as to how a product is made and small-scale operations often label their products under established brand names. There is no real way to stop it, but people use synthetic marijuana for two main reasons. One is because cannabis is illegal in their state, and the second is because it does not show up in a urine test. Legalization of marijuana would solve both of these problems and could end up saving lives.