One Man Is Dead, Another Is On Life Support With Suspected Synthetic Marijuana Poisoning

A London tourist smoking pot in Amsterdam.

A 33-year-old Queensland man has died, while another 41-year-old man is on life support from suspected synthetic cannabis poisoning.

Both men fell ill and several others had been hospitalised in Mackay, central Queensland after allegedly using the synthetic drug.

Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of shredded plant material and chemicals designed to mimic Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, which is the chemical that is responsible for the high.

The recent wave of hospitalisations has the state’s police and health officials concerned that users are unaware of the drug’s volatility.

Detective Acting Inspector Sam Bliss of Mackay Crime and Support Services says “the chemical compounds found in these drugs are dangerous and are not herbal or natural alternatives to ‘real drugs’.”

“They contain synthetic compounds which are toxic and extremely dangerous,” she said.

“Synthetic cannabinoidomimetic drugs are included in Schedule 2 of the Drugs Misuse Regulation 1987 and offences exist for possessing, producing, supplying and or trafficking in dangerous drugs, which includes so-called synthetic products containing these substances.”

According to Richard Kevin a PhD student studying synthetic cannabinoids at the University of Sydney it is almost impossible to know the toxicity levels of synthetic cannabinoids because the drugs are so heavily modified.

“These new synthetics are being developed at a rate that outstrips the speed at which researchers can respond,” he said.

“Even when a specific synthetic drug is outlawed, or even an entire class of drugs, the molecular structure can often be ‘tweaked’ slightly so that the new compound falls outside of existing legislation. This results in a large variety of synthetic cannabinoids with largely unknown toxicity.

“While some synthetic cannabinoids appear to be relatively well tolerated, others have been linked to a number of serious health effects such as acute kidney injury, panic attacks, and seizures. Using a synthetic product is a lot like picking up a random pill off the ground – you can’t know exactly what you’re getting, so you’re taking a big risk. Sooner or later it’s likely that a particularly toxic synthetic cannabinoid will be developed and distributed, potentially costing lives, as may be the case in Queensland.”

Spice, a type of synthetic marijuana, was reportedly the drug of choice for a number of US soldiers last year because producers were continuously changing the drug’s compounds making it difficult to detect. Read more on that here.

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