Oregon Poison Center warns that synthetic pot poses emerging public health concern

02/15/13  Portland, Ore.

Several states across the nation have reported cases of acute kidney injury linked with the growing use of a designer drug sold openly online and in some tobacco and convenience stores; five cases were reported in Oregon in the past year. According to an article published today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), synthetic cannabinoids, a chemically altered drug made to mimic the mind-altering affects of marijuana when smoked, may contain compounds that can severely harm the kidneys.

Two physicians from the Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health & Science University, Zane Horowitz, M.D. and Rob Hendrickson, M.D., contributed to the article, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The article analyzed 16 cases of acute kidney injury following exposure to synthetic cannabinoids. In seven cases a new cannabinoid was detected.

“Synthetic cannabinoids have been banned but are still available to consumers right here in Oregon,” said Horowitz. “The drugs may be labeled that they’re ‘not for human consumption’ but we know that these products are being smoked recreationally like marijuana.”

Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) are a mixture of psychoactive chemicals dissolved in solvent, sprayed on plant material resembling dried herbs and marketed by street names such as spice, K2, herbal incense, potpourri, or JWH-018. The drug is often packaged in colorful wrappers or silvery plastic packets designed to appeal to teens, young adults and first-time drug users. Side effects include rapid heartbeats, shortness of breath, agitation, seizures, headaches, nausea and vomiting—all symptoms that make these chemicals far more dangerous than marijuana itself. In some cases severe abdominal pain and back pain (which can be symptoms of sudden kidney failure) were reported following the use of SCs.

“What we really want people to know is that these drugs are easily attainable yet they pose a significant public health risk,” said Hendrickson. “Manufacturers of this product are not regulated and each batch is different, making it very difficult to trace potentially dangerous contaminants.”

About the Oregon Poison Center

The Oregon Poison Center (OPC) is a 24-hour poison emergency management resource for the public and health care professionals serving Oregon, Alaska and Guam. Located on the campus of Oregon Health & Science University, OPC was established by an act of the Oregon State Legislature in 1978 to provide emergency treatment information for patients experiencing a poisoning or toxic exposure. OPC’s doctors and nurses, who are trained in toxicology, handle nearly 60,000 calls a year utilizing professional expertise as well as an extensive variety of computer databases, textbooks and journal articles to determine the appropriate treatment guidelines for patients. Call the poison center hot line number (1 800-222-1222) for all poison emergencies and questions.

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only academic health and research university. As Portland's largest employer with nearly 14,000 employees, OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support not found anywhere else in the state. OHSU serves patients from every corner of Oregon and is a conduit for learning for more than 4,300 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.