US probes likely synthetic pot outbreak

by Ben Neary

A federal team has arrived in Colorado to help investigate hospital reports that synthetic marijuana is to blame for scores of recent illnesses and possibly three fatalities in the state.

"The deaths are suspect, they're being investigated," Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Tuesday.

The five-member federal team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes experts trained in epidemiology and toxicology.

Salley said they will join investigators from the state and Tri-County Health Department trying to determine the source of synthetic pot—also known as "spice"—that apparently has sickened an estimated 75 people since late August.

The effort may take weeks, Salley said. He urged people not to ingest synthetic pot.

The outbreak in Colorado followed a case in North Carolina, where the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration charged 30 people in July with conspiracy to distribute and other drugs.

"The rise of synthetic drug use in the United States alone has reached and has resulted in a sustained rise in , deaths, and violence among teens and young adults," Harry S. Sommers, special agent in charge of the Atlanta field division of the CDC, said in July.

Wyoming last year saw a number of illnesses associated with synthetic marijuana. That outbreak sparked a CDC probe that found 16 people in six states had suffered from the drug.

Wyoming authorities said more than a dozen people were sickened in the Casper area and several were hospitalized with kidney failure following exposure to synthetic marijuana.

Two women were recently sentenced to federal prison in Wyoming for distributing the drug and causing serious injury.

Dr. Tracy Murphy, Wyoming state epidemiologist, said Tuesday that the cases came to light last year after an unusual number of patients went to hospitals with , back pain, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Murphy said substances sold as synthetic marijuana are unpredictable in terms of ingredients and physical reactions.

"There's probably lots of illnesses and harmful effects that we probably just don't know about yet," he said. "The best thing is that people just need to not put that stuff in their bodies."

Wyoming and other states, as well as the federal government, have attempted to outlaw synthetic marijuana. However, lawmakers face a moving target because the chemical nature of the substance can evolve.

Murphy said manufacturers may try to make new products based on what is or isn't outlawed.

A CDC report says synthetic marijuana appeared in the United States in 2009. It is generally comprised of a drug solution applied to plant material and is distributed globally "under countless trade names and packaged in colorful wrappers designed to appeal to teens, young adults and first-time drug users," the report states.

"Products are often packaged with disingenuous labels such as 'not for human consumption,' or 'incense,' but health professionals and legal authorities are keenly aware that these products are smoked like marijuana," the report says.

Related Stories

New health concerns about 'fake pot' in US

date Mar 05, 2012

A type of fake pot has raised new health concerns in the United States after at least three users were hospitalized for kidney failure, authorities in the western state of Wyoming said Monday.

New York law stubs out synthetic marijuana

date Mar 29, 2012

Synthetic marijuana, which is sold openly in shops and gives smokers a high, was banned Thursday across New York after being linked to serious health risks.

Recommended for you

Footpaths and parks support active school commute

date 3 hours ago

While it probably won't make the idea of attending school more appealing social scientists say different infrastructure and behaviour change programs are key to encouraging young people to take a more active ...

Food barometer measures a population’'s eating habits

date 4 hours ago

A survey by Taylor's-Toulouse University Centre (TTUC) is collecting data on the food habits of individuals and how their choices are related to modernisation and other social factors. Results show that almost ...

Who you gonna call? Beijing smokebusters to go on patrol

date 9 hours ago

China's capital seeks to snuff out smoking in indoor public places on Monday with a new ban, unprecedented fines and a hotline to report offenders, but enforcement is doubtful in one of the world's most tobacco-addicted countries.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.