Here’s How Many People Fatally Overdosed On Marijuana Last Year


With marijuana now legal in some form throughout 23 states, the number of Americans who fatally overdosed on the drug last year was significant:

The rate of absolutely zero deaths from a marijuana overdose remained steady from last year, according to figures released this month by the Centers for Disease Control. But while Americans aren’t dying as a result of marijuana overdoses, the same can’t be said for a range of other substances, both legal and illicit.

CDC

A total of 17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine last year, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers like Valium, according to CDC figures.

Opioid overdose levels rose so sharply in 2014 — spiking 14 percent from the previous year — the CDC described the levels as “epidemic.”

“More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record,” the CDC reported earlier this month.

CDC

Alcohol, an even more accessible substance, is killing Americans at a rate not seen in roughly 35 years, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data. The more than 30,700 Americans who died from alcohol-induced causes last year doesn’t include alcohol-related deaths like drunk driving or accidents; if it did, the death toll would be more than two and a half times higher.

According to a widely cited 2006 report in American Scientist, “alcohol is more lethal than many other commonly abused substances.” The report further puts the lethality of various substances in perspective:

Drinking a mere 10 times the normal amount of alcohol within 5 or 10 minutes can prove fatal, whereas smoking or eating marijuana might require something like 1,000 times the usual dose to cause death.

Though marijuana has yet to lead to a fatal overdose in the U.S., it does have the potential to be abused and lead to dangerous behaviors like drugged driving — but taking too much will likely lead to, if anything, a really bad trip. 

Despite the changing tide in American attitudes toward marijuana for both therapeutic and recreational uses, legalization is still vigorously opposed by groups like the pharmaceutical lobby (who stand to lose big if patients turn to medical marijuana for treatment) and police unions (who stand to lose federal funding for the war on drugs).

Even among 2016 presidential contenders, Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only candidate from either party to support outright legalization of marijuana by removing it from the federal list of Schedule 1 drugs, which includes substances like heroin and LSD.

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Cops Seize Bath Salts, Synthetic Pot at Hartford Gas Stations


Police seized synthetic pot, bath salts, counterfeit clothing and untaxed cigarettes when narcotic units raided two City Gas stations on Tuesday.

Arrest warrants were issued for people associated with the two gas stations on 1510 Albany Ave and 10 White Street.

Three employees were taken into custody at the scene.

Mohammed Shaheen, 51, of New Britain, Shiraj Mohammed, 50, of Newington, and Ahmed Mustak, 32, of Hartford all face charges of counterfeit stamps/labels, possession of hallucinogenics and intent to sell.

Photo credit: Hartford Police

Detectives were able to find 37 packs of synthetic marijuana and 1022 grams of bath salts hidden in the ceiling tiles of one of the businesses. Police also obtained 663 counterfeit knit winter hats with team logos embroidered on, a large amount of untaxed tobacco products and $28,187.

Earlier in the day, police said they were investigating a possible break-in at the Gas City on Albany Avenue. Police said the businesses were closed down but someone had burglarized one of them by forced entry. The burglary investigation is ongoing.

Synthetic drug can be a dangerous alternative to marijuana


“I smoked it that night and then soon after it caused me to have multiple seizures,” said Towler, 20, who lives in Lakeland.

Although the compounds found in synthetic marijuana have been around for a long time, they have somehow found their way out of the research lab and into the hands of people who modify them and make them into more dangerous drugs, said Dr. Ruben Baler, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“They keep evolving because they are easily modified, making them much more powerful and potent than the most powerful strains of THC,” Baler said. THC is the compound in marijuana plants that causes psychological effects.

Towler said he started smoking synthetic marijuana, also known as “K-2” or “spice” on the streets, when he was put on probation after leaving the scene of an accident last January.

“Only reason I would smoke it was because I couldn’t do anything else,” he said, adding that he used it as an alternative to regular marijuana and was given random drug tests.

Towler was at home in June when he smoked the spice that could have killed him.

“My grandpa found me unresponsive on the floor and he was on his way out (the door),” he said. “If he wouldn’t have checked on me, I wouldn’t be here.”

Towler said he was taken to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center in June where he was placed in an induced coma for five days because he couldn’t stop having seizures.

He awakened on the fifth day unable to speak and unaware of where he was. Doctors told him it was most likely the synthetic marijuana that put him there.

Alfred Aleguas Jr., managing director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, said the center has seen an increase in the number of calls about spice reactions over the years, with 7,779 exposures reported nationally from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2015, by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“We see this as a public health issue,” Aleguas said. “It may be illegal but you can get it under the counter at gas stations; it’s still pretty readily available.”

In 2010, the poison center received four spice-related calls. That number has increased by 600 percent, with 28 calls in 2015.

“We are trying to get a handle on this because we do see it as a growing problem,” he said, adding that the number of calls the center has received does not reflect the number of people experiencing the dangerous effects of synthetic cannabinoids, which he says is much higher.

Because each batch of synthetic cannabinoids has different compounds, some with multiples in a single batch, those who use it have no way of knowing what they are getting.

“You could have smoked the same stuff a ton of times but will get a more potent batch one time and be in trouble,” Aleguas said. “It really is just like playing Russian Roulette.”

The compounds, which were originally developed by John W. Huffman to aid in research for multiple sclerosis, attach to the CB1 and CB2 receptors or cannabinoid receptors in the brain, and bind more tightly than regular THC, the compound found in marijuana.

“THC reacts to them not so strongly and is relatively harmless,” Aleguas said about the effects of marijuana versus synthetic cannabinoids. “Marijuana is considered a fairly benign, recreational drug but the compounds found in different strains of synthetic cannabinoids can cause significant adverse effects.”

Those effects include severe agitation, anxiety, rapid heart beat, nausea, vomiting, seizures, acute kidney injury, blood pressure issues, stroke, intracerebral bleeding, change in heart rhythm and psychotic events.

“These are significant symptoms and what is really scary is the general feeling people have that they (synthetic cannabinoids) aren’t that big of a deal,” Aleguas said.

Baler agreed, saying the effects synthetic cannabinoids can cause are dangerous but they also vary from person to person.

“A wide variety of individuals can have very different effects or consequences from the compounds,” he said.

Baler added that the use of the synthetic cannabinoids can create a distorted perception of reality, leading to lethal behavior or suicidal thoughts.

“Anything that affects your performance can affect your life,” he said. “Some of the compounds are like THC and can cause elevated mood and relaxation but some are more potent. They are like a family and some work less, some work harder, and those that work harder combine more tightly and have a profound and dangerous effect.”

Because the calls to the poison center and the number of people, especially teenagers, using synthetic cannabinoids are increasing, Aleguas said the poison center is taking initiatives to find out which compounds are causing the most dangerous effects.

When users are admitted to the hospital, a urine test is administered to determine which compounds were used.

“When people smoke marijuana they will feel the effects for about six to eight hours and then it will wear off but when someone smokes spice it could leave them in the hospital,” he said.

Aleguas said they have learned certain compounds, like XLR-11, are thought to have caused an inordinate number of young people to have strokes.

“There was a 20-year-old who now has to learn how to walk, and read and talk all over again,” he said. “The effects can be just devastating.”

Aleguas said those who use synthetic cannabinoids are those who are traditionally drug tested such as military personnel, high school students, athletes or those in the penal system because the compounds often go undetected by traditional drug tests.

“They usually choose the synthetic cannabinoids as an alternative to marijuana,” he said.

Huffman, the chemist who developed the synthetic cannabinoid compounds, advocates for the legalization of marijuana so that people will stop using the synthetic strains.

He has been quoted saying that it is “foolish” for people to use the compounds recreationally and that they have dangerous effects on the human brain unlike THC.

Huffman has said that the decriminalization of marijuana would diminish the appeal of its more dangerous alternative.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd disagrees with Huffman, saying that legalizing marijuana in an effort to get rid of another dangerous drug is “ridiculous.”

“I can tell you from spending my entire adult life in this career that most of the devastating things I have seen can all be traced back to the use of dangerous drugs and that’s why as a government we have determined they should be illegal,” he said, adding that the families of drug abusers are the ones who truly suffer.

Judd said the Sheriff’s Office recognized synthetic cannabinoids as a dangerous criminal compound when they first became popular in 2010 and that he personally wrote hundreds of letters to merchants, telling them it was against the law.

“Almost without fail stores quit selling it in this county and the handful that didn’t were arrested,” he said.

Judd said what is disconcerting to him is that they are still being sold and used after the public has seen the possible medical reactions.

“A percentage of people who will try or u`se anything to become intoxicated or stoned think it will never happen to them or don’t care,” Judd said.

Judd said he thinks synthetic marijuana is a fad that will “burn itself out,” adding that if users don’t stop on their own, they will stop when it kills them.

Towler disagrees, saying he knows how widely it is used and that it’s not an easy habit to kick.

“I have buddies that continue to smoke it now even after knowing what happened to me,” Towler said. “I know of multiple people who smoke it every day because it’s highly addictive.”

Baler said research has proven that the compounds in synthetic cannabinoids are addictive and can lead to chronic and uncontrolled use.

Withdrawal symptoms for regular users include headaches, depression, anxiety and irritability. Most of those were the reasons Towler said he used synthetic marijuana to begin with.

“I want people to know how dangerous it is and that it is something they shouldn’t mess around with,” Towler said. “It’s a serious problem and it’s not worth it.”

Athletes fumble in end run around drug tests


Synthetic marijuana can be genuinely dangerous.

Chandler Jones, a 25-year-old defensive end on the New England Patriots, ran shirtless through the parking lot of a Foxborough, Massachusetts, police station on Sunday after smoking synthetic marijuana, according to a report in The Boston Globe. Jones was reportedly in a confused state, a common reaction to the drug, before seeking medical attention.

On Thursday, Jones acknowledged that he made “a pretty stupid mistake.” He didn’t say what he actually ingested.

If the Patriots star did smoke Spice, a common name for synthetic weed, he isn’t the first person to suffer the drug’s frightening side effects. Synthetic marijuana, which began gaining popularity about a decade ago, is dried plant matter sprayed with a psychoactive chemical compound. You can find it at gas stations, novelty stores and head shops in colorful packages sporting names like “Bizarro” and “Cloud9.”

More than 500 brands of the drug, each with a different mix of compounds, are sold in the United States. The startling diversity has made it difficult to control. Worse, it makes Spice a completely unpredictable experience, says Dr. Donna Bush, a forensic toxicologist at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

“People are thinking it’s marijuana, more of a relaxing experience,” said Bush. They’re not expecting something that’s “physiologically terrifying.”

Data on how much people are using synthetic weed is hard to come by. But a quick Google search shows the drug is getting popular.

The fact that synthetic weed is easy to get — it’s typically sold as incense — is part of its appeal, experts say. Unlike real weed, which requires a prescription in most of the states where you can legally buy it, synthetic weed can be bought with cash or a credit card. Nothing else needed.

Synthetic weed is also cheap. The drug sells online for about $5 per gram, about a fifth of the price a similar amount of good bud would cost.

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Athletes might also like Spice because it’s an end run around drug tests. Players can be suspended for using recreational substances and performance-enhancing drugs, not that the penalties appear to have stopped their use of either.

In December, a defensive tackle at Ole Miss became so paranoid and delusional after allegedly using synthetic marijuana that he broke through his hotel room window and fell more than 15 feet to escape from phantom assailants, according to news reports.

Neither the New England Patriots nor the National Football League, which organizes the professional sports league, returned requests for comment. Ole Miss, formally known as the University of Mississippi, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Reactions like the one Jones appears to have had don’t surprise Ray Ho, a clinical toxicologist with California Poison Control.

After just a few uses, people can “begin developing psychosis.” That means they hallucinate and become paranoid, Ho says, adding that studies show the drug can be 20 times as powerful as marijuana.

“I think it’s becoming an epidemic,” Ho said. “People consider it just as safe as (the marijuana) plant.”

Deadly ‘spice’ drug sold to homeless addicts in under the counter sales


A DEADLY drug which is having a “devastating impact” on homeless addicts is being sold under the counter by some shops in Camden Town, it can be revealed.

Outreach workers, employed to help rough-sleepers off the streets, told the New Journal that paramedics have been inundated with calls about people who have collapsed or suffered from psychotic episodes after smoking the synthetic cannabis – which is known to users as “spice”.

Manufactured commer­cially in east Asia, it is one of the so-called “legal highs” that had until recently been sold openly at dozens of shops.

It was removed from shelves at the end of last year following a crackdown by Camden Council on the sale of the drug – which is labelled as “not fit for human consumption” but overtly marketed under various synonyms for cannabis.

However, users have told both the New Journal and healthcare professionals that it is still readily available under the counter in some shops in NW1. Camden Council accepted this week that it continues to be sold by “persistent retailers who are making a significant profit”.

 

He added: “We are seeing class-A drug users, who have been injecting heroin and crack for many years, turning to this stuff. It’s very cheap, it’s very available and you don’t get nicked if you’ve got it. But it’s highly addictive and the impact it’s having is devastating. People are having psychotic episodes or blacking out, collapsing in the street.”

The dangerous ‘Spice’ drugs

One rough sleeper told the New Journal that he believed “spice” was responsible for the deaths of two homeless men in Camden Town in the past four months.

He said: “I’ve tried every drug in this world, but spice is the worst. You’re honestly better off taking heroin.”

Mr Bangay said that, while he did not know the detailed cause of death in both cases, he would “not be at all surprised if it was a factor”, adding: “The risk-taking behaviour, the aggression that comes out from using this stuff, has all got to be a factor in what happens to people. It’s just so strong.”

A homeless man was found collapsed near Mornington Crescent tube station on Tuesday last week and later died at the Royal Free Hospital of a suspected heart attack. In September, rough sleeper Enda Murray died after collapsing on the steps of a club near Camden Town tube station. The cause of death in both cases remains unknown and inquests are scheduled to take place.

The New Journal was repeatedly turned away by shopkeepers when attempting to buy the drug this week, which has been linked to more than a dozen deaths in the UK, but Mr Bangay said dealers are still buying it directly from shops or online – where it is marketed as a “research chemical” or plant fertiliser.

He said: “It’s much less of an issue than it was for the casual user. For the young kid coming into Camden Town it’s harder to get, which is a great thing. But it’s just as prolific as it was among rough sleepers. As long as there are outlets that are selling it, even under the counter, then it will still be around.”

Council community safety chief, Councillor Jonathan Simpson, said: “The council is very concerned about the availability of these products and has been carrying out focused work to ensure increased public safety. Our focus will remain on continuing to reduce their availability throughout the borough.’’

Ex-deputy charged in ‘spice’ ring


A former Hendricks County deputy provided security for a massive synthetic drug operation that stretched from China to a farm near New Palestine, prosecutors said Friday.

Former Hendricks County Deputy Jason Woods was charged in Hancock County Thursday with six felonies including corrupt business influence, dealing a synthetic drug and other crimes,

Woods, who was held in the Hancock County Jail, appeared in court Friday morning for an initial hearing.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said the charges stem from an Indiana State Police and Department of Homeland Security investigation into an international conspiracy stretching from the United States to China and back again to warehouses in Indianapolis and a farm near New Palestine.

“With the cooperation of some of the people that have been charged previously, it gave us the information that allowed us to charge Mr. Woods,” Eaton said.

Woods and his wife, former Hendricks County Deputy Teresa Woods, were arrested in December 2014 on other charges stemming from an investigation into the spice ring. They were suspended, then fired, in March 2014.

Authorities say the farm in the 4500 block of South County Road 650 West was being used as a spice production facility. Woods and his wife spent so much time at that farm, authorities said, that neighbors thought the police officer had moved in.

In the new charging documents, prosecutors say Woods used his position as a deputy provide security at the farm and to escort the spice-production operation when it was relocated to New Palestine from an Indianapolis warehouse.

In return, prosecutors say, Woods received gifts including trips to Phoenix and Las Vegas in 2013.

The alleged ringleader, fundamentalist preacher Robert Jaynes Jr., faces federal charges. Jaynes, authorities say, enlisted members of the Irvington Bible Baptist Church‘s small congregation to fund the operation, launder cash and even employed some to package the drugs and keep the books.

Woods and his wife were members of the church.

Star reporters Tim Evans and Mark Alesia contributed to this story.

Call IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at (317) 444-2701. Follow him on Twitter: @vicryc.

The dangers of synthetic marijuana


HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A bust in Hartford on Wednesday turned up a bunch of synthetic marijuana. So what are doctors saying about the dangers?

Hartford police seized dozens and dozens of bags of synthetic marijuana from two separate gas stations, as well as $28,000 in cash. The drug is not just in Hartford. More than a dozen people have ended up in the hospital over the past year, from Willimantic to New Haven, to a 20-year-old girl across from the Eastern campus, who police caught up to running around like an airplane, taking off her clothes.

That’s why Deputy Chief Brian J. Foley says Hartford police are trying to get as much of the stuff off the streets as possible.

“We had an idea that they were selling it, so we sent some undercovers in and this is what we found, synthetic marijuana and bath salts and we are trying to prevent it from exploding here on our streets,” said Foley.

And the Boston Globe is reporting that Chandler Jones, Defensive End for the New England Patriots took synthetic marijuana last Sunday and ended up shirtless in the police parking lot and from there, was taken to the hospital.

Dr. J. Craig Allen of the Rushford Center, says synthetic marijuana is sprayed with a chemical and you don’t know what you’re getting. It can shut down your blood vessels pretty quickly and put you in the hospital.

The bags seized by Hartford have smiley faces right on the front cover, but it’s nothing to smile about as it can cause powerful hallucinations and paranoia.

“Often times they have little pictures of dogs. Scooby snacks is one brand of synthetic marijuana that is sold and some gas stations. Although it is illegal in Connecticut, it might be found under the counter,” said Allen. “If you see these packages around or you hear your kids talking about it or tweeting about it, be concerned because this is really dangerous stuff.”

Rapid heartbeat, paranoia, delusions, sweating and fever are just some of the symptoms to look for if your child has taken synthetic marijuana.

Opinion: Chandler Jones’ ‘bad trip’ on Spice is the result of bad NFL policy


chandler-jones-150x150

The NFL continues to ignore the medical benefits of cannabis, leaving players like Chandler Jones in an unfortunate bind.

 

For fans of the New England Patriots, it’s the type of story you dread waking up to: A franchise player like defensive end Chandler Jones caught doing something on the fringe of the rulebook. Instead ofdubious science regarding ball pressure, this time it’s scientifically created doobies sending a professional athlete on a sojourn to the local hospital.

I’m sure Bill Belichick is thrilled.

When I first read The Boston Globe report that Patriots star Chandler Jones had a bad reaction tosynthetic marijuana over the weekend, I felt for him. I’ve had a number of “bad trips” and uncomfortable highs from remarkable weed in my day, but they pale in comparison to the experiences people report on Spice or K2, two popular types of the fake herb. When there are enough videos online to make several NSFW compilations of people writhing on the ground or puking on themselves after a single hit, I’ll pass.

But why, Chandler Jones?

So why was Chandler Jones, a rising star and 2015 Pro Bowler, reportedly using it days before the AFC Divisional Championship?

For a guy dealing with toe and abdomen injuries, I can’t imagine vomiting or uncontrollable body spasms are the recommended course of treatment. Add in the risk of psychosis or death, the latter of which the CDC reported 15 in early 2015, and it seems like the lessons of Aaron Hernandez’s PCP addiction were truly lost on Jones.

In a world where cannabis exists, there’s no reason to smoke Spice. Ever.

New Hampshire declares state of emergency over "spice"
An example of “spice” (Minnesota Department of Human Services/Associated Press file)

What I can absolutely understand are the psychological benefits of cannabis. For me, a few hits can reduce stress and anxiety, and playing at the largest stage where one mistake — just ask Blair Walsh — can determine a season, I’d imagine that being able to take the edge off is a luxury for players.

My best guess as to what happened, though? He just needed some sleep. He fired up some spice — perhaps he’d read that some drug tests fail to detect synthetic marijuana — and had a terrible reaction that kept him up for hours, feeling so terrible he walked to a local police station for help. If he had been able to use the same pot as millions of Americans, this would be a non-story.

Perhaps this could have all been avoided if the NFL would take a page from hockey’s don’t ask, don’t tell pot policy — or even remove marijuana from its banned substances list entirely.

Cannabis is legal for medical use in Massachusettes, and it has been nearly two years since the commish said “We’ll continue to follow the medicine.” For all of his paeans about player safety, Goodell continues to turn a blind eye to cannabis as a viable alternative to pain killers, not to mention studies on the neuroprotective benefitsof cannabidiol. He probably hasn’t had time to see “Concussion” yet, too busy spending considerable time and money still fighting DeflateGate.

Spice may be dangerous, but so is the NFL’s paternalistic relationship with its players that continues to force them into making poor decisions.