The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported Friday that 32 patients visited emergency rooms with severe bleeding after using a synthetic cannabinoid product, up from the 22 cases the state reported on March 7, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Despite the perception that synthetic cannabinoids are safe and a legal alternative to marijuana, many are illegal and can cause severe illness,” said Nirav D. Shah, IDPH director, in a statement. “The recent cases of severe bleeding are evidence of the harm synthetic cannabinoids can cause.”
The agency issued a warning Tuesday about the hazards of synthetic marijuana after six people in Northeastern Illinois reportedly experienced the side effect since March 10.
Often referred to as “fake weed,” “K2” or “spice,” these synthetic cannabinoids have reportedly been responsible for numerous people in Northeastern Illinois bleeding from their eyes and ears.
In the report, the agency included a comprehensive breakdown of geographic locations that have reported the issue, including eight cases in Chicago, four in Cook County, and one each in Will, DuPage, Kane and McLean counties. Tazewell County also reported 10 cases, while Peoria County logged six.
Even though the incidents were mostly in the Chicago area, the drug could be affecting people statewide, said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
Besides bleeding from the ears and eyes, patients also vomited blood, suffered nosebleeds, saw blood in their urine and women bled heavier than normal during their menstrual cycle.
Experts have long considered the synthetic drug to be unsafe, however, these particular side effects weren’t discovered until recently, said Dr. Melissa Millewich, an emergency room physician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, a general medical and surgical facility in Downers Grove.
“This bleeding is not expected, at least in such a significant population so quickly,” she told the publication.
Synthetic cannabinoids are comprised of hundreds of different chemicals, which are called cannabinoids. They trigger similar brain cell receptors as the main active ingredient in marijuana, known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), according to the IDPH. The agency said it was “continuing to investigate the outbreaks to try to identify a common product.”