Synthetic drug “spice” linked to at least six kidney failures


A form of synthetic marijuana known as “spice” has caused at least a half-dozen cases of sudden kidney failure in Oregon and southwest Washington since May, the Oregon Health Authority reported Friday.

The agency said experts are analyzing samples to determine what toxin is causing problems. It has also asked doctors across the region to report cases of kidney failure that might be linked to the drug.

“This is not just a bad trip,” said Gary Schnabel, executive director of the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, which voted to ban the sale and possession of synthetic cannabis products last year. “We are talking about your kidneys, and you only have two of them.”

The six patients requiring hospitalization were from the Portland, Salem and Roseburg areas, as well as Vancouver, Wash. The most recent case occurred in late September.

Five of the patients were 18 or younger, and all were male. Though they have been discharged, they remain at heightened risk for kidney problems later in life.

Spice, which is typically smoked, is a mixture of plant material sprayed with a designer drug similar to THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis. It’s marketed under street names such as “K2,” ”herbal incense” and “potpourri.”

Sharon Su, M.D., a kidney specialist at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel, began treating a 17-year-old boy in August. (Read his firsthand account)

“His kidneys were shutting down,” Dr. Su told KATU News Friday.

“He was in really bad shape,” Su said. “He did not eat for several days. He was in a lot of pain, which is really unusual for kidney failure.”

Federal law enforcement does have a good lead on which batch of synthetic marijuana is tainted because of cooperation from the family of the boy Su treated.

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