New York City emergency rooms are seeing an outbreak of fake marijuana-related illnesses, according to the city’s health department. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a warning on Sunday urging people not to buy or use “synthetic cannabinoids,” which are often sold at head shops under names like K2, Spice, and Green Giant. The agency says it’s gotten reports of 15 fake weed-related emergency room visits over the past two days, concentrated in East Harlem, Central Harlem and Chelsea.
Synthetic pot has been illegal in New York state since 2012, when Governor Andrew Cuomo banned it after a run of sometimes deeply hysterical stories on the drug’s effects. But the dangers aren’t entirely overhyped. Synthetic weed is made of an unpredictable blend of ingredients, and used by a particularly young and naive population: the health department says that, according to calls received by the city’s Poison Control Department, most fake pot users are teenagers or young adults. The agency says it’s seen a 220% increase in emergency room visits related to fake weed over this time last year.
The agency says, too, that the people heading to the ER over the past two days have experienced “severe adverse reactions” to the drug, though we don’t know exactly what that means. We’ve contacted the health department for clarification; they’re looking into it, and we’ll update when we hear back.
If you happen to see fake weed for sale, the city asks that you call 311, who will report the information to the NYPD. They’re reporting seeing the stuff under a variety of increasingly ludicrous brand names, including Smacked, Geeked Up, AK-47 and Wicked X. If you’ve taken some fake pot, you can and probably should call Poison Control, 1-800-222-1222 or 212-POISONS (212-764-7667).
As for real pot, about 18% of New York City ninth through 12th graders reported using the drug in the past month, according to a 2013 report. The city reports zero overdose deaths as a result of marijuana between 2000 and 2012.
The full press release from the Health Department is reprinted on the following page.
Health Department Warns New Yorkers of Dangers of Synthetic Cannabinoids
In last three days, Department aware of 15 people experiencing severe adverse reactions after suspected ingestion of synthetic cannabinoids
Emergency department visits related to synthetic cannabinoids up 220% in first six months of 2014
July 27, 2014 – The Health Department today warned New Yorkers not to use synthetic cannabinoids after becoming aware since Thursday night of 15 people experiencing severe adverse reactions to suspected ingestion of the products. Synthetic cannabinoids, marijuana-like substances which were made illegal in 2012 and are meant to imitate the effects of marijuana, are known by several street names, including K2, Spice, Green Giant, Geeked Up, Caution, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47 and “legal marijuana.” The Department has seen a 220% increase in emergency department visits related to synthetic cannabinoids in 2014. In the last two days, 15 emergency department visits related to possible ingestion of synthetic cannabinoids have occurred among residents of East Harlem, Central Harlem and Chelsea.
“K2, Spice, Green Giant – no matter what you call it, synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous and illegal,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said. “I urge people not to use these products, which have caused a huge spike in emergency room visits this year.”
Because the ingredients change frequently in synthetic cannabinoids, the risks and consequences of using them are unpredictable and there is no antidote. Reactions include seizures and hallucinations, though symptoms usually do not last longer than 1-2 hours.
The Health Department urges New Yorkers who see synthetic cannabinoids for sale to report this to 311, which will send the information to NYPD.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2014