In response to the recent wave of concern over the potentially lethal side effects of smoking synthetic cannabinoids, the Livingston County Health Department is warning people not to smoke the drug known colloquially as “spice,” “K2” and “fake weed.” At least two people around the state have died from a new and dangerous batch going around — one that contains brodifacoum, a chemical often used in rat poison.
    As of April 6, the most recent report from the Illinois Department of Public Health suggests that there have been at least 95 cases of suspected synthetic cannabis use since March 7, including the deaths of two in Cook County and Kane County. While there were at least 25 cases in each of Chicago, Peoria and Tazewell County, there were also reported cases within Livingston County’s neighbors: two in Kankakee County and one in McLean.
    Pontiac Police Maj. Dan Davis said that, as of yet, there had been no reported or suspected cases of synthetic cannabinoid poisonings in Pontiac. MaLinda Hill, administrator of the Livingston County Health Department, said that she had not yet seen signs of usage in the wider county, either.
    But given the cannabinoid’s proximity to the area, the county’s health department warned that some victims have experienced severe bleeding, such as coughing up blood, having blood in the urine, experiencing severe bloody noses and/or having bleeding gums after using synthetic cannabinoids. Several of these cases have tested positive for brodifacoum, a lethal anticoagulant often used as a rodenticide, or rat poison.
    “While Livingston County has not seen any cases of severe bleeding caused by synthetic cannabinoid use yet, the number of people experiencing severe bleeding after using the synthetic drug is still increasing in the region,” the Livingston County Health Department stated in a release. “We will continue to work with state and federal public health officials to try to identify common products and where it’s coming from. We strongly urge everyone not to use synthetic cannabinoids.”
    The LCHD said that synthetic cannabinoids are manmade, mind-altering chemicals that are sprayed on to dried plant material, and that they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized in e-cigarettes and other devices; the chemicals are referred to as cannabinoids because they are similar to chemicals found in the marijuana plant, the health department added, but noted that the health effects from using synthetic cannabinoids, even without rat poison, can be unpredictable, harmful and deadly.
    The now-national notoriety of Illinois’s fake marijuana laced with rat poison is not necessarily a new story — rather, it’s a tragic twist on an old one: at the turn of the decade, synthetic cannabinoids were a legal product, albeit one with a dubious reputation. After the death of Aurora teen Max Dobner in June 2011, the state began cracking down, enacting Max’s Law in 2012 that outlawed possession of synthetic marijuana.
    However, the chemists of the illegal drugs have used and continue to use legal loopholes extant in many states that allows the cannabinoids to be chemically altered just enough to avoid the bans. And perhaps an imposter pot crafted with rat poison is the latest consequence — or just the tip of the iceberg.
    “Anytime you have a lethal anticoagulant, it is very dangerous, medically speaking, because you could bleed to death very easily,” she said. “Drugs change, and people change drugs so that they can make money off of them. When you’re desperate to purchase drugs, it’s very difficult to know what it is, exactly, that you’re purchasing.
    “So family members need to watch, and if you notice that someone is bleeding more in general, or is passed out and is bleeding, call the ambulance and get help right away.”