Synthetic Marijuana Responsible For Mass Hospitalization, NY Police Say

By Victoria Kim 05/22/18

“They would take two puffs and bam, they’d drop right there. People just started falling to the ground," one witness said.

medical professionals rushing a gurney down a hospital hallway

More than a dozen people in Brooklyn, New York were hospitalized on Saturday night (May 19).

Authorities believe the cause to be a toxic batch of a synthetic drug known as “Spice” or “K2” designed to mimic the effect of THC in cannabis. But unlike marijuana, K2 can cause aggression, hallucinations, severe anxiety and rapid heart rate. (There’s really no comparing the two.)

CNN reported 25 hospitalized, while the New York Times reported 14. A witness described the scene to the Times: “They would take two puffs and bam, they’d drop right there. People just started falling to the ground. Right here, there were three strewn on the sidewalk. Over there, two more. The medics were here working until 9 pm.”

Some were found unconscious, struggling to breathe and vomiting, according to the Times. All were treated with naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote. All are expected to survive, with no fatalities.

By Sunday, about half were released from the hospital, according to CNN.

Police believe that the people were sickened by K2, according to Lt. Paul Ng of the NYPD. This isn’t the first mass overdose in Brooklyn. In 2016, 33 were hospitalized over an 11-hour period. K2 was also suspected of being the cause of that incident.

Police are now seeking information about drug activity in the area or additional people who were affected by the mass poisoning.

According to the Times, NYC hospitals recorded 600 emergency room visits caused by synthetic cannabinoids this year alone.

There have been several reports of similar poisonings everywhere from Illinois to Maryland.

An especially concerning warning came last month from the CDC about a rash of “unexplained bleeding such as coughing up blood, blood in the urine, bloody nose and bleeding gums” that was tied to synthetic cannabinoids containing brodifacoum, a rat poison.   

From early March to April, four people died and 153 were sickened by the substance in central Illinois, authorities reported.

Most U.S. states have banned synthetic cannabinoids, but they remain “difficult to stamp out,” the Times explains, “in part because their makeup is constantly changing, a problem that also makes it difficult to assess how dangerous they are.”

“These are synthetic drugs that are manufactured with remarkable creativity such that lawmakers are facing challenges in keeping ahead,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD police officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Restricting access to one ingredient touches off a search for a replacement. If you can whip up an intoxicating or stimulating substance readily and legally available, you can avoid prosecution.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr