Rat Poison and Synthetic Marijuana—A Bloody Mess

Spice packages
Photo courtesy of the DEA.

Anyone using synthetic drugs is putting themselves at extraordinary risk because of the utterly uncontrolled nature of these drugs. There’s absolutely no telling what chemicals—deadly or otherwise—they will contain. There’s no way of knowing what toxic materials the manufacturers might choose to dilute their formulas with.

Or will these unscrupulous chemists make a truly monumental mistake and contaminate their potions with rat poison? This seems to be the case in Illinois, as 38 people have flocked to area hospitals to get help as they bled from the eyes, ears, lungs, noses, gums, uteruses, bowels or urinary tracts. One of them died. So far, three of these people have tested positive for brodifacoum, a potent and long-lasting rat poison.

The Illinois Department of Health released the news, warning local residents to destroy any synthetic marijuana they may have purchased recently. Synthetic marijuana actually has no relation to the cannabis plant—it is only given this name because the class of chemicals it usually contains affects the same receptors in the brain that cannabis does. It’s often available from convenience stores or drug paraphernalia shops and is legal in many places as legislation has not yet caught up to all the changing formulas being sold.

Youth, Military and Those in Sensitive Jobs Particularly at Risk

People attracted to synthetic marijuana include those who might be randomly drug tested. This includes teenagers whose parents might spring a surprise drug test on them. While there are drug tests that can detect this class of drug, most easily-available drug tests won’t do the job. And synthetic marijuana chemicals don’t have the strong smell that pot does. But now, a person who thought they could get high without anyone knowing about it could find themselves bleeding uncontrollably from the eyes, ears, nose or other body parts.

A woman presses gauze over her bleeding eyes

Brodifacoum kills rats by disabling the blood’s ability to clot. Thus, the bleeding in these drug users. Treatment for this type of poisoning is lengthy because the poison lasts such a long time in the body. Hospitals will normally administer intravenous Vitamin K, the blood-clotting factor, and then keep the person on a high dose of this vitamin after they go home.

When a drug is too dangerous and is associated with intense physical or mental harm, it tends to drop out of popularity. This happened a few decades ago with PCP. Several years ago, using synthetic marijuana was all the rage but there were so many appalling and disabling injuries that it seems users have made other choices for a while. But honestly, there are serious dangers with any drug use. Cocaine, methamphetamine and even marijuana have recently been contaminated with fentanyl. The only safety—both mental and physical—is in sobriety.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.