Synthetic Marijuana Becoming a New Force in Poison Control Centers

One type is marketed as “synthetic marijuana.” The other is advertised as “fake cocaine” or “fake meth.” Both are marketed as legal equivalents to illegal drugs. But both cause alarming side effects that are generating a slew of calls to poison centers and spurring concern among doctors across the U.S.

America’s 57 poison centers first received calls about “synthetic marijuana” in late 2009. During 2010, they received 2,915 calls about these new products. And from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 this year, they’ve received 5,083 calls. The synthetic marijuana products sell for between $30 and $40 per 3-gram bag, in packages labeled as incense or potpourri and marketed under brand names like “Spice,” “K2 incense,” “Genie,” “Yucatan Fire,” “Sence,” “Smoke,” “Skunk” and “Zohai.”

In December 2010, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency concerned about reports of people experiencing vomiting, hallucinations, racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure moved to make the substances illegal. More than a dozen states had already taken this action.

Late last year, poison centers began to receive calls about products marketed as “bath salts” sold both on the Internet as well as in gas stations and head shops. Packaging is usually a plastic bag filled with a white granular powder. The products are known as “Red Dove,” “Blue Silk,” “Zoom,” “Bloom,” “Cloud 9,” “Ocean Snow,” “Lunar Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Ivory Wave,” “White Lightning,” “Scarface” and “Hurricane Charlie.” They produce increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions. Poison centers took 303 calls about the products in 2010; between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2011, the number of calls had jumped to 5,226.

Many states have responded to the rising use of bath salts by passing laws to make them illegal, and in September 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a ban of the chemicals used to make these dangerous drugs.

Keep your poison center’s number near your phone: 1-800-222-1222. Remember: You can call your poison center to ask about these substances even if you have not been exposed to them. Poison centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and take both emergency and nonemergency calls.The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation’s 57 poison centers in their efforts to prevent and treat poison exposures. Poison centers offer free, private, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We take calls in more than 150 languages and from the hearing impaired.For questions about poison or if you think someone has been exposed to a poison, call 1-800-222-1222 to reach your local poison center.