Synthetic Marijuana In Florida Tainted With Rat Poison, 52 Sick, 4 Dead | Turn 420
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Synthetic Marijuana In Florida Tainted With Rat Poison, 52 Sick, 4 Dead

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Here’s what can happen when fake marijuana products aren’t exactly squeaky clean. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) report published on Friday described a tragic tale of rat poison ending up in synthetic cannabinoid products in Florida near the end of 2021. This resulted in 52 people getting sick and four people dying. That wasn’t all. For the survivors, treatment took months, and a lot of dollars ended up going up in smoke.

Obviously rat poison is a a bad thing to have enter your body, even when you don’t have whiskers and a tail. It’s difficult to think of any situations where you may ask, “excuse me, could you put some rat poison in that? It would be great to experience some uncontrolled bleeding.” The ingredient that puts the poison in many types of rat poison is brodifacoum, a powerful anticoagulant that can inhibit the enzyme vitamin K epoxide reductase. Now, you may not wake up every day saying, “thank goodness for my vitamin K epoxide reductase,” since you can’t see the enzyme in selfies. But this enzyme is essential in maintaining appropriate levels of vitamin K in your blood. Not having enough vitamin K in your blood is not OK. Your body uses vitamin K to build substances such as prothrombin that help your blood to clot when needed. Without proper blood clot formation, things can get bleeding awful in your body pretty quickly.

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The Florida Department of Health first noticed that something was not dope on December 4, 2021, when the Florida Poison Information Center Tampa notified them about three patients who had used synthetic cannabinoid (SCB) products and had subsequently suffered unexplained bleeding. This then led to the opening of an extensive investigation to smoke out any more cases that included issuing a press release to raise awareness and monitoring Florida Poison Information Center, emergency department, and urgent care data for similar cases.

Not to get into the weeds of things, but diagnosing these poisonings was complicated. It’s not as if your doctor reminds you, “it’s time for you annual rat poison test” or says every time you have a tummy ache, “hmmm, are you putting rat poison in your food again?” Therefore, the mechanisms for such testing aren’t typically in place. That’s part of the reason why such testing can be expensive, costing over $750 per specimen, and have a relatively long turnaround time, which ain’t great when you are trying to figure if someone has been poisoned. In fact, only one private laboratory in the area was able to offer quantitative brodifacoum testing. The Florida Poison Information Center Tampa had to work with this laboratory to trim costs and make the results available sooner.

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Eventually 52 such cases surfaced, including 43 confirmed and nine probable cases, with 38 from the north and east Tampa area and the rest from Hillsborough County. On average, patients were 36 years of age, ranging from 16 to 63 years of age with 40 (76.9%) being male. All but five had reported using synthetic cannabinoid products that they had purchased from similar locations prior to developing symptoms. The most common symptoms were blood in the urine for 36 of the patients, abdominal pain for 33 of them, and vomiting blood, which 16 experienced. Four patients ended up not surviving with the average age of death being 34 years.

Five of the patients submitted their synthetic cannabinoid products for testing. Testing found brodifacoum in four of these, leading authorities to suspect that rat poison in the fake weed products was the culprit. Now you may wonder why anyone would put rat poison in such products. After all, killing off your customers is usually considered bad business since death makes it very difficult for someone to be return customer. Alas, suppliers may be putting brodifacoum in these products under the belief that the substance may somehow enhance and prolong the psychoactive effects of the synthetic cannabinoids. To put it bluntly, such high maintenance seems hardly worth it, though, since uncontrollable bleeding and death tend to make for bad weed trips.

Even for those who survived, the problems kept rolling. Treatment of brodifacoum poisoning ain’t that easy. Doctors gave the patients both oral and intravenous vitamin K1 to try to overcome the vitamin K-depleting effects of the poison. The trouble is brodifacoum can remain in your body for months, so the patients had to continue taking oral vitamin K1 for three to six months after being discharged from the hospital. This got freaking expensive with oral vitamin K1 treatment often costing over $65,000 per month. That’s like one 2022 Tesla Model Y or over 10,800 pounds of cheddar cheese a month. The patients weren’t exactly billionaire elite either with 34 of them being uninsured. Plus, it can be difficult to find adequate supplies of such high doses of vitamin K1. So they needed help from the Hillsborough County government and a private pharmaceutical company, which donated vitamin K1 tablets.

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The release of the CDC MMWR report came on the same day that U.S. President Joe Biden announced an Executive Order to pardon those who had been charged with federal crimes for simply possessing marijuana. It’s not clear whether this was a sheer coincidence. Nonetheless, the rat poison cases in the report do highlight the dangers of leaving the weed market relatively unregulated as it has been for many years. When weed and weed-like products are in the hands of questionable suppliers working outside the law, getting such products could be a pick-your-poison situation, figurately and literally. A lot of marijuana legalization advocates may be saying “weed” like to think that this may all change when marijuana-use is progressively decriminalized. But that depends on what happens next, whether Biden’s Executive Order will be shortly followed by the establishment of more structured sensible systems to enable safer products and better protect consumers. After all, all of these things should be joint decisions.

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