The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is warning people about the potentially life-threatening effects of synthetic cannabinoids, or “fake weed,” as users continue to be hospitalized with severe bleeding.
Since March, the state has seen 15 hospitalizations believed to be linked to the synthetic drug. Officials are urging people not to use the products, which are often labeled as “K2” or “spice,” and have contained rat poison.
Of the 15 hospitalizations, seven cases in Dane, Milwaukee and Outagamie counties were confirmed to have been caused by use of synthetic cannabinoids, the Department of Health Services said. The other eight cases remain unconfirmed but a link to the synthetic drug is probable.
Only one case was reported in Dane County during a wave of synthetic marijuana incidents earlier this spring, Public Health Madison and Dane County spokeswoman Sarah Mattes said.
“The dangerous products are still in the community and we urge people not to use K2, spice, or any synthetic cannabinoid,” state health officer Karen McKeown said in a statement.
Synthetic cannabinoids contain harmful chemicals that are often sprayed onto dried herbs or plant material, or sold as liquids to be inhaled or vaporized, according to DHS.
Four deaths from severe bleeding related to the product have been reported in Illinois, DHS said.
The substances have been illegal in Wisconsin since 2011. Possessing the products can result in up to $1,000 in fines or jail time.
In December 2017, Capitol Petro convenience stores in Madison and the franchise’s owner were fined $1.3 million for over 16,000 violations for selling the fake weed products.
New versions of fake weed are available each year and present new unknown health risks, according to DHS. In some states, the fake weed products can be found at convenience stores, gas stations, drug paraphernalia shops and online.