Three of the hospitalized people tested positive for brodifacoum, more commonly known as rat poison.
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. Peoria Public Health Officials says almost half of the 38 cases so have been in Peoria and Tazewell Counties.
All cases have required hospitalization for symptoms like coughing up blood, blood in the urine, severe bloody nose, and bleeding gums. Two other cases are under investigation.
Synthetic cannabinoids, or fake weed, are human-made chemicals that can be sprinkled on dried, shredded plant material and smoked, or can be consumed as vaporized liquids inhaled through an e-cigarette or other device.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is looking to find the source of the synthetic marijuana that's sickened dozens, and now suspected of killing one Peoria man. "We don't know if the supply of synthetic cannabinoids in IL and the Chicago area have been tainted by someone with brodifacoum, or rat poison".
"Despite the perception that synthetic cannabinoids are safe and a legal alternative to marijuana, many are illegal and can cause severe illness", IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah said in a statement earlier this week. "Why they're happening? We're still uncertain", he said.
Last week, the state public health department sent a memo to pharmacies and pharmacists across the state warning they might see patients with prescriptions of unusually high doses of Vitamin K because of the recent outbreak. But officials believe that number will grow, as it's possible contaminated products have been sold across the state. IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold told the Chicago newspaper that the product is banned for sale across the state, but some manufacturers alter the "molecular makeup of the products" to "get around" the law.
These mind-altering chemicals are called cannabinoids, since they are similar to the chemicals found in marijuana, though they can cause serious side effects that are different from those of marijuana.
"If you use synthetic drugs, you're playing Russian roulette with your life", Smith said.
Anyone who has a reaction to synthetic cannabinoids should call 911 or have someone take them to the emergency department immediately.
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