NEW HAVEN, CT — Synthetic cannabinoids often sold under the names K2 and Spice, is believed to be the cause of 76 overdoses in New Haven between Tuesday and Wednesday night. The overdoses primarily occurred on the New Haven Green, which caused a massive response that pushed emergency responders to the limit.
Synthetic cannabinoids are often mistaken for man-made marijuana. In fact, they are mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning statement on July 19, 2018 about numerous health emergencies, mostly in midwestern states, caused by consumption of synthetic cannabinoid products laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant (blood-thinning) compound commonly used in rat poison.
In the New Haven overdoses, officials blamed a chemical called fubinaca, a particularly powerful synthetic cannabinoid.
The New Haven Green turned into a chaotic abyss of drug users falling before first responders’ eyes as they overdosed on suspected K2. By Thursday, more than 100 overdoses were recorded.
Is K2 “Fake Weed”?
K2 and other synthetic cannabinoids react on the same brain cell receptors as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, however, they affect the brain in different and unpredictable ways, according to the CDC.
K2 is a synthetic cannabinoid often marketed as an alternative to marijuana, but it’s effects are quite different.
It had commonly been sold in head shops and gas stations with labels indicating it wasn’t for human consumption or was for use as an incense.
Connecticut banned K2, Spice and other synthetic cannabinoid analogs in 2012. Selling it nowadays can lead to felony-level criminal charges, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Related: New Haven K2 Contained Powerful Fubinaca Chemical: PD
How Is It Consumed?
Synthetic cannabinoids can be consumed in a variety of ways. One way is to spray the chemical onto plant material and smoke it. It can also be made into a liquid form that can be vaped like an e-cigarette.
Another method of consumption is to mix it in food or herbal teas to ingest it.
Why Is It So Dangerous?
There is no official formulation for K2 and like other illicit drugs it can have varying strengths and levels of toxicity depending on the batch. There are hundreds of different synthetic cannabinoid chemicals, according to the CDC. New formulations pop up every year with unknown side effects.
The CDC warns that side effects can include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation and hallucinations.
The Illinois Department of Public Health issued a warning in March 2018 after several reports of people who suffered from severe bleeding after using synthetic cannabinoid products.
There were 56 documented cases in Illinois of severe bleeding after consumption of K2. Two people died after coughing up blood and bleeding from other areas.
K2 seen in the mass New Haven overdose had a rapid onset along with a rapid decline back to sobriety.
Image via DEA