Synthetic marijuana is being blamed for nearly 160 overdoses over seven days in one Pennsylvania county. Between July 7 and July 14, Lancaster County emergency personnel responded to 115 calls to 911 related to synthetic marijuana or K2 overdoses, with many of the calls involving multiple victims.
According to first responders, the 158 synthetic marijuana overdose patients ranged in ages from 20 to 40. While the victims became extremely ill from the fake weed, no one died.
"We're seeing very sick patients, individuals who have very low blood pressure, are unconscious, and they're getting admitted to intensive care. This is also taxing the local hospitals that are well above capacity," said C. Robert May with Lancaster Emergency Medical Services, as cited by CBS News.
"It ties up resources when other calls are coming in, and that results in delayed response times."Lancaster County emergency service is accustomed to responding to heroin overdose victims, averaging nearly eight calls per day. However, the appearance of so many synthetic marijuana overdose calls has both first responders and county officials concerned.
"Heroin is normally the issue but in the last week there's been an overdose of synthetic marijuana," May told CNN.
"The assumption is that heroin is not readily available, so people are turning to K2."
Often referred to as K2 or Spice, synthetic marijuana is generally made with a variety of herbs or other plant material mixed with compounds similar to THC, the chemical responsible for the infamous high experienced when smoking weed. The effects of synthetic marijuana are mostly unpredictable as the ingredients vary and can affect people differently.
Although most of the Lancaster County synthetic marijuana overdose calls were from people in their 20s and 30s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report fake weed is gaining popularity among teenagers seeking a cheap alternative to cannabis. The agency also reports synthetic marijuana users are more likely to try heroin or other more intense drugs in search of a greater high. Over a five-month period in 2015, over 3,500 emergency calls associated with synthetic marijuana were made to poison control centers, according to the CDC.
Last year, emergency services in Brooklyn, New York, responded to what many called a "zombie outbreak" after 33 people overdosed on K2 in one day. It was later discovered that AMB-FUBINACA, a synthetic cannabinoid 85 times stronger than the THC found in marijuana, was the cause of the unprecedented overdose incident.
Treating someone overdosing on synthetic marijuana is difficult since the chemicals making up the drug are typically unknown. Unlike heroin overdoses, the effects of fake weed cannot be reversed with the life-saving drug naloxone.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]