Synthetic Cannabinoids Prompt Warnings from Health Agencies

Kristen Coppock, MA, Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018
Multiple incidences of severe bleeding prompted the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to issue a warning last week about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids. In 6 reported cases, severe bleeding occurred after each individual affected had used synthetic cannabinoids, which are colloquially known as "fake weed," "K2," and "spice."1 

"Despite the perception that synthetic cannabinoids are safe and a legal alternative to marijuana, many are illegal and can cause severe illness,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the IDPH, in a statement. “The recent cases of severe bleeding are evidence of the harm synthetic cannabinoids can cause.”

Use of synthetic cannabinoids can lead to serious illness or death, according to the CDC. These products can affect brain function, causing agitation and irritability, confusion and concentration problems, seizures, and sleepiness and dizziness, as well as hallucinations, delusions, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior. Other health effects caused by synthetic cannabinoids can include breathing problems, gastrointestinal problems, heart attack, stroke, hypertension, kidney failure and muscle damage.2 The CDC has also warned that many synthetic cannabinoids are addictive, and individuals who suddenly stop using them have reported adverse effects of withdrawal, including vomiting, headache and severe anxiety.

According to the IDPH, the term "synthetic cannabinoids" refers to hundreds of different chemicals that act on the same brain cell receptors as the main active ingredient in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids are various manmade chemicals that some people use as an alternative to marijuana.They can be smoked, vaped, or swallowed, typically when mixed with food or beverages.

Synthetic cannabinoids are unsafe, said the IDPH in a statement, and it is difficult to know what is in them or how an individual will react. According to both agencies, synthetic cannabinoids can be toxic, unpredictable, harmful, and life-threatening.

Many synthetic cannabinoids also are illegal.2 The federal government, as well as state and local governments, have banned many specific synthetic cannabinoids, according to the CDC. Recent federal and state laws have also banned ingredients utilized in making synthetic cannabinoids.

In a statement, the IDPH said the 6 incidences of severe bleeding after using synthetic cannabinoids were all reported in northeastern Illinois since March 10, 2018. The agency, as well as the CDC, is urging anyone who has a serious reaction to synthetic cannabinoids to seek emergency medical treatment.

This article was originally published on

  1. IDPH Issues Warning About Synthetic Cannabinoids [news release]. Springfield, IL. Illinois Department of Public Health. Published March 23, 2018. Accessed March 30, 2018.
  2. About synthetic cannabinoids. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 21, 2017. Accessed March 30, 2018.

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