Jails, hospitals report spike in synthetic marijuana overdoses

Detoxification from synthetic marijuana can take weeks because of the mix of chemicals involved


By C1 Staff

LUZERNE COUNTY — Officials on the east coast are reporting a sharp increase in the use of synthetic marijuana, especially inside jails.

The Times Leader reports that the Luzerne County Jail had three inmates alone last week suffer skyrocketing blood pressure and heart rates from ingestion of the drug, along with issues breathing.

This Feb. 15, 2010, file photo shows a package of K2, a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the main ingredient in marijuana. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall, File)
This Feb. 15, 2010, file photo shows a package of K2, a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the main ingredient in marijuana. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall, File)

“These types of overdoses are reminiscent of the bath salt epidemic from a few years ago. Just like with bath salts, we are seeing all ages and demographics with the synthetic marijuana,” said Dr. Ron Strony, emergency medicine director at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.

Synthetic marijuana is a dried plant mix sprayed with chemicals and marketed as a legal alternative to marijuana, even though its chemicals are not regulated.

It’s often labeled as incense, herbal mixtures or potpourri to disguise it.

Detoxification from synthetic marijuana can take weeks because of the mix of chemicals involved, compared to a typical wait of days for alcohol, opiates and other drugs. Patients in Luzerne County have reportedly suffered agitation and delirium to lethargy from overdosing on the drug.

“It’s made in these backyard labs and mixed with who knows what,” said Gary Snopes, director of clinical services at CHOICES. “It’s kind of like rolling the dice as what somebody has mixed in there.”

Correctional Services head J. Allen Nesbit said the marijuana is getting into the prison due to a ban on routine body cavity searches when inmates arrive.

A court ruling elsewhere in the state prevents the prison from conducting blanket strip searches. Inmates can be sent to a nearby hospital for such a search if there is probable cause.

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