Fake Weed-Related Injuries and Deaths Break Out in Illinois

K2An outbreak of synthetic marijuana, starting in Chicago and fanning out in Illinois, has caused more than 50 cases of serious bleeding–including two deaths–and those numbers are rising.

“This is the first time we’ve seen an outbreak of this magnitude in the area,” Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, announces.

Its effects can be up to 10 times more intense than marijuana; as a result, it’s more dangerous. And its longterm effects on the brain and body are still unknown.

“Synthetic cannabinoids have been touted as ‘safe, legal’ alternatives to marijuana and other illicit substances, but they are neither,” says Gateway Lake Villa Executive Director Karen Wolownik-Albert. “Patients in treatment who are withdrawing from these unknown chemicals experience extreme agitation, language and perceptual disturbances, paranoia, hallucinations, and significant physical discomfort.”

What is synthetic marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana, often referred to as K2, consists of human-made chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material and smoked, or liquids that are vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices.

What are the signs?

  • Feeling lightheaded and having trouble walking
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation, confusion, paranoia, and panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heart rate and over-stimulation of the central nervous system

What should you do?

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Gateway Foundation Alumni Warn Others about Synthetic Drugs

Gateway Foundation Carbondale recently took part in a panel discussion hosted by the Harrisburg Alliance Against Drug Abuse to share with concerned citizens the many risks associated with synthetic drug use.

Synthetic drugs like bath salts and synthetic marijuana or K2 are abused for their psychogenic, hallucinogenic and mood-altering effects. While bath salts are in powder form like cocaine and may be ingested, injected or snorted, K2 is normally smoked or may be rendered into a liquid and taken with food.

Jennifer Casteel, a substance abuse counselor at Gateway Foundation Carbondale, was joined by two young men who volunteered to share their experiences with bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Currently in recovery, they both completed substance abuse treatment at Gateway Foundation Carbondale. Now the young men are cautioning others to stay away from synthetic drugs.

“Bath salts and K2 can cause adverse reactions, such as: hallucinations, seizures, agitation, vomiting, paranoia, anxiety, blacking out and over-stimulation of the central nervous system,” Casteel explained.

One of the young men primarily abused bath salts. While bath salts are now illegal, they weren’t when he started using them. He could find them for legal sale at several stores in his hometown for about $50 to $80 a gram. He explained the high was extreme, but so were the lows when the drug wore off and the crash came.

“I was up three to six days with no sleep, no food, just a lot of water,” the young man said. “Bath salts really mess with your brain. You literally hate everything, including yourself. You think about suicide. And you know the only thing that will make you feel normal again is if you do more of this. And that’s how it escalates so quickly,” he shared.

For the other young man, K2 was the drug of choice. A normally laid back person, he said when he used K2 he became violent with his mother, and was led from the house in handcuffs.

An unpredictable drug, some brands of synthetic marijuana may result in a slightly mellow feeling while others may create significant psychological distress. Even within the same brand, the effects may vary from packet to packet. K2 can induce a limitless high the more a user smokes. Its effects can be up to 10 times more intense than marijuana.

With synthetic drug abuse behind them, both young men look forward to a much more promising future. One has aspirations to open a restaurant and the other intends to pursue a career as a substance abuse counselor and help others like him get their lives back on track.

What is Synthetic Marijuana or K2?

K2 Synthetic MarijuanaK2 can be produced using chemical compounds called JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200 and CP-47,497. These compounds are structured similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and can be sprayed onto varying mixtures of dried herbs, flowers and tobacco leaves. The most common consumption method is smoking.

Gateway Foundation Shares K2 Clinical Discoveries

Individuals in substance abuse treatment at Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment have confirmed the dangerous effects of K2 use, such as:

Hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety and over-activation of the central nervous system (e.g., elevated temperature, rapid heartbeat) are common. An individual who used K2 reported he felt as though his heart was pounding so intensely it would explode.

Some users report a sensation that can only be best described as a temporary paralysis of motor movement. For example, an individual reported he was so high from K2 that he could not tell if he was breathing anymore, but was clearly conscious.

Some users report significant agitation and aggression when coming off of K2 or when hey are eager for their next fix; others may not have this experience at all.

K2 users who were otherwise completely free of suicidal thoughts said they became suicidal after using K2. Users of K2 who overdosed reported blacking out, having seizures and vomiting.

Gateway Foundation offers free educational materials that highlight signs and symptoms of substance abuse as well as on-site presentations about current drug trends. For more information, please visit RecoverGateway.org or email ContactUs@RecoverGateway.org.

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