published Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Fake pot linked to 30 being hospitalized in Northeast Alabama

A poster warns of the effects of the drug known as “Spice.”
A poster warns of the effects of the drug known as “Spice.”
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SYNTHETIC POT

Sold under names such as K2, Spice, JH/Kush, Vampire Blood, Lazy Cakes, Simmer and Unwind.

Side effects: Sleepiness, relaxation, reduced blood pressure; at higher doses, hallucinations, delusions, rapid heart rate, paleness, vomiting, elevated blood pressure, seizures.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Tainted synthetic marijuana has been linked to the hospitalization of at least 30 people in Northeast Alabama for kidney problems possibly related to a pesticide in the newly banned substance, according to authorities.

DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said information gathered from local health officials indicates about 30 people, ranging in age from 15 to 33, recently had symptoms of kidney failure and serious kidney reactions.

The problems are related to what authorities believe might be a pesticide or herbicide on synthetic marijuana sometimes labeled "Spice." The product is sold behind the counter of some stores and "head shops," he said.

Some of the people were treated locally, and some went to hospitals in Birmingham or Huntsville, Harris said. Authorities have been hearing accounts of people getting sick for "four or five months," he said, but not the specific symptoms that District Attorney Mike O'Dell uncovered in his review of the health information.

O'Dell could not be reached for comment Friday.

Harris said Alabama lawmakers have revised older laws against synthetics to give authorities a leg up.

"We've been battling this, and every time we'd get some kind of law passed and they would take some kind of ingredient out [to get around the law]," Harris said.

A new Alabama law that went into effect Thursday has much broader definitions of the synthetic, giving law enforcement a better weapon to fight back, Harris said.

"We're going after everybody in our county that's selling it," he said Friday. "We've had several calls this morning about several places that were selling it behind the counter.

"We're looking at stores and individuals," he said. "I think a lot of them got nervous. One of the places we were looking at, I've heard they've been shut down for two days."

Harris said he also has relayed information to a nearby Georgia county about a possible source of the drug there. He wouldn't say which county.

He said the drug producers were probably adding ingredients to enhance users' "high," but the additive had unintended effects.

Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver said his officers haven't encountered the tainted product as far as he knows, but that's not to say that people there aren't getting it and exposing themselves to grave danger.

"It is apparently a serious health issue," Shaver said. "Like with most drugs, there's a potential there for harm or death at any time, but especially with this tainted product.

"We want to make sure we alert the public not to use these products. It is a public health hazard," he said.

Jackson County District Attorney Charles Rhodes said he's unaware of any specific cases related to tainted synthetic marijuana, but there are plenty of accounts of adverse reactions among users.

"In the past, we have had problems with Spice, and folks have had some significant health issues," Rhodes said. "There may well be some tainted Spice here, but we just haven't had reports on it like they had there."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his facebook posts at www.facebook.com/benbenton1 or follow him at twitter.com/BenBenton on Twitter.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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