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Synthetic Pot Tied to Surge of Emergency Cases

Colorado patients were delirious, combative, had seizures and breathing problems
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors in Colorado are sounding an alarm about the dangers of synthetic marijuana after seeing a surge of emergency cases tied to its use.

The products, sold under names like Black Mamba, Crazy Clown, K2 and Spice, sent at least 263 people for emergency treatment statewide over a one-month period last year.

"At the end of August, we started noting that patients were coming in with a very severe clinical illness," said Dr. Andrew Monte, an assistant professor in emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.

Monte said patients were delirious; they were fighting medical staff. Their pulses were racing and many went on to have seizures. Seven patients were put on ventilators in the intensive care unit after they developed trouble breathing. All survived.

Monte said the cases they counted before the outbreak ended Sept. 19 were probably just a fraction of the total.

"All these kinds of toxicologic outbreaks are far underreported, for a couple of reasons," he said.

First, not everybody who got sick went to the hospital. Monte thinks most people would try to stay at home and wait out the bad reaction, especially if their symptoms weren't as severe. Second, some patients probably weren't asked about drug use or wouldn't admit to it, making the final case count lower than it really was, he noted.

The surge in cases was reported in a letter published Jan. 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the Dec. 13 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado isn't the only state to see a rise in poisonings tied to synthetic pot.

According to an earlier report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency department visits associated with use of synthetic pot more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, with the case count increasing from about 11,400 to more than 28,500 nationwide.

Synthetic marijuana is dried plant material that has been sprayed with laboratory-created psychoactive chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It's sold in gas stations and head shops as an herbal product. But experts say there's nothing natural about it.

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