Synthetic cannabis may increase risk of stroke in young users

LONDON — A strange medical incident involving a 25-year-old prison inmate preceded new warnings against synthetic cannabis, including some more common varieties known as “spice” or “k2.” Researchers believe the dangerous drugs could potentially lead to strokes in young adults who use them.

A group of doctors in Buffalo, New York point specifically to the case of the stricken inmate. Prison guards found the man collapsed on a bathroom floor with a “suspicious” substance by his side that the guards thought was synthetic cannabis. They rushed the inmate to the emergency room while he was in a state of confusion and experiencing numbness on the right side of his body. The inmate had several episodes of confusion after using synthetic cannabis before.

Scans revealed an extensive stroke area and swelling in the brain. A heart trace scan found evidence of a previous heart attack, despite tests for normal cardiovascular problems showing normal stroke and heart attack risks. The authors note that the inmate smoked for five years, but had quit two years prior to the incident.

The inmate was treated for future stroke prevention and heart failure, but despite physiotherapy, he remained weak and uncoordinated on the right side of his body, a disability that he suffers from today. Both the stroke and heart attack were linked to the inmate’s use of synthetic cannabis.

The doctors studying this incident noted in their writeup that this was only one case and that hard medical evidence cannot be drawn from it, but they also point out that synthetic cannabis has caused cardiovascular problems in people before. It has been linked to heart arrhythmia, chest pain, low blood pressure, fainting, and inflamed hands and feet veins.

“The development of immunoassays aimed at detecting these drugs in serum or urine will also help in stratifying the population at risk. However, the diversity among different drugs under this common umbrella of ‘synthetic marijuana’ will remain a barrier to successful testing of all chemicals with a single battery of tests,” the researchers wrote.

The full case study and analysis was published June 7, 2018 in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

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