By Dylan Deprey
As the second half of June rolled around, local area hospitals saw a spike in severe bleeding cases. From never-ending bloody noses, to extremely heavy menstrual cycles, these were the same type of cases Chicago-area hospitals had been seeing since early March.
In Chicago, the cause was Synthetic Cannabinoids tainted with Brodifacoum, a blood thinner that was also found in rat poison. As of June 20, 2018, the Illinois Department of Public Health had received reports of 164 cases, including four deaths since March 7, 2018.
Synthetic Cannabinoids, or Fake Weed, are marketed as a euphoria-inducing incense. They are branded in shiny foil packages that are cheaper than natural marijuana and are easily accessible at gas stations, drug paraphernalia shops, novelty stores and online. The chemical coated plant product also goes by: K2, Spice, Fake Weed, Scooby Snax, Bling Blang Monkey, The Joker, Black Mamba, Maui Wowi, Cloud 9 and the list goes on.
On Monday, the City of Milwaukee Health Department issued an alert about the spike in severe bleeding cases. Since Monday, there were 27 severe bleeding cases in Milwaukee, which was compared to the 10 cases that were reported only six days earlier. Just like in Chicago, testing showed that several patients had Brodifacoum in their system.
“These dangerous products are circulating in our community,” stated Patricia McManus, Commissioner of Health, in statement. “I urge everyone in the community to steer clear of these products. They are unpredictable and they are not safe.”
Alderman Khalif Rainey, 7th District, issued a statement to the public following the spike in health calls for the Synthetic Cannabinoid on Wednesday.
“K2 is illegal and extremely dangerous,” said Rainey. “I encourage parents to speak to their children about the dangers of K2 as well as residents to be aware of the extreme health complications it can cause.”
Dr. Jillian Theobald, Wisconsin Poison Center Toxicologist, hosted a press conference to shed the light on the dangers and symptoms from tainted synthetic cannabinoids floating around the community.
“What happens is that it thins the blood, so it doesn’t clot properly,” Theobald said. “People could bump their head and bleed into their brains, and we’ve had cases of that.”
Theobald said she had also seen cases of internal bleeding in the chest and abdomen area, uncontrollable nose bleeds, excessive menstrual cycles and blood in urine. She added that most of the symptoms may not show until days later.
“The bleeding can be pretty severe because they require blood transfusions and procedures,” Theobald said. “It is difficult to reverse the anti-coagulant, Brodifacoum, because it lasts for weeks to months.”
She added that patients would need extended treatment to remove the contaminant because it stayed in the system for so long, which included receiving heavy doses of Vitamin K.
She said most of the cases people had bought the product in Milwaukee, and there were several where people had shared a Hookah pipe.
Theobald said the age range for these cases were adults in their 20’s to early 30’s. She noted that there were several reasons people chose to smoke Synthetic Cannabinoids, whether it be the significant price difference from its natural counterpart, the overpowering effects and the absence of the product in a drug test.
Rafael Mercado, Team HAVOC and MKE Heroin Diaries founder, said he knew the effects of K2 firsthand. He said that in that most of the cases, the individuals using the product were probably on probation or parole.
“K2 is used by most trying to skirt the urine drops,” stated Mercado in a message to the Courier. “It’s highly addicting as one goes thru [sic] withdrawals when they pull themselves off it. I know because I used it when I first got out of federal prison.”
Theobald said one of brands that had popped up several times after speaking with forthcoming patients was “The Joker.”
After scouring the internet for the manufacturer of the Batman-villain inspired incense, it seemed the only available information was marketed on webpages selling the product.
Most of the websites stated “The Joker” was one of the top-selling brands, which knocked users out of reality and into a feeling of pure insanity.
Most webpages clearly state that these Synthetic Cannabinoids were for slow-burning only and were not meant to be consumed orally.
One web-supplier, Incense Express, had a disclaimer about “The Joker” manufacturer claiming there were counterfeited bags with fake ingredients floating around, but there was no date or location of where bags were shipped and if there were any health-related incidents involved.
Another supplier, The Official K2 Incense, had a page dedicated specifically on how to spot counterfeited brands.
After reaching out to several of the online suppliers about possibly tainted synthetic cannabinoids, nobody returned the message.
Though this was not Milwaukee’s first fake weed outbreak, Theobald said the symptoms are always different. She said she had seen everything from being trapped in zombielike-state to expressing extreme anger and irritability.
“It all depends on what compounds are sprayed on the plant, so there could be a wide array of clinical side effects,” Theobald said.
The MHD stated that if you, a family member, friend have purchased synthetic cannabinoids, or K2, do not use them.
If symptoms like severe bleeding and unexplained bruising show call 911 or the 24/7 Poison Control Hotline (800) 222-1222.