The Illinois Department of Public Health has received reports of 56 cases of severe bleeding, including two deaths, linked to the use of synthetic cannabinoids.
La Salle County officials, however, say they have not had any incidents involving cannabinoids within the county in recent years.
To date, no local hospitals have reported any cases of related illness, but they are not required to report them, said Leslie Dougherty of the La Salle County Health Department.
“We’ve had no arrests with the synthetic stuff for quite awhile,” said La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton.
The state health department has been monitoring known cases of the outbreak dating back to March 7; tracing 17 to Chicago, 14 to Peoria County, 12 to Tazewell County, with cases reported in Kankakee, McLean, Kane, DuPage and Will counties.
Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made, mind-altering chemicals sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes or other devices. They are sold for recreational drug use with claims they will provide the effects of marijuana.
While these products are often sold over-the-counter at convenience stores or online, and used by teenagers due to their accessibility, the state agency warns these products are dangerous, because they are unpredictable.
The owner of a Chicago convenience store and two employees have been charged with selling the synthetic marijuana linked to the two deaths, according to the Associated Press.
Federal officials say the synthetic cannabinoids linked to the two deaths were packaged in sealed containers and labeled with such names as Matrix, Blue Giant and Crazy Monkey. Testing of the products revealed brodifacoum, a toxic substance frequently used in rat poison.
The commander of Tri-Dent, which is a drug task force in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties, said his team has dealt with arrests for synthetic marijuana in the past, but nothing lately.
“I’m not coming up with any active investigations we have going on,” he said. “We’re swamped with the heroin and opioid problem.”
The commander said prosecution involving synthetic marijuana is challenging, because manufacturers alter the molecular structure to stay ahead of laws, which have to outline the substance’s makeup.
“If it doesn’t fit that chemical structure, prosecutors won’t prosecute,” he said.
The commander said he has not received any reports of K2, or synthetic cannabinoid, sales in the past couple of years, but he used to hear them occasionally. K2, Spice, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Genie, and Zohai are common names for the product, but other brand names also are available.
The health department is urging anyone who may have purchased this product in the past month not to use it. Anyone who has used any of these products, and starts experiencing severe, unexplained bleeding or bruising, go to the hospital or dial 911 immediately. Health care providers should also be told of the possible link between symptoms and synthetic cannabinoid use.