Synthetic marijuana is believed to have sickened 221 people in Colorado during a monthlong outbreak this year, according to a federal report released Thursday.
The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is based on a joint investigation with state health officials launched after Colorado hospitals started seeing an increase in emergency room visits by people who had used synthetic pot in late August.
Investigators found two new variants of synthetic marijuana in Colorado, ADBICA and ADB-PINACA, the latter of which was linked to a similar outbreak in Georgia in August. State health officials and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation are trying to determine whether the strains contributed to the illnesses.
While real marijuana is legal in Colorado, synthetic marijuana - dried plant material sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids - is illegal. Other states and the federal government have also attempted to ban it, but regulators have had a hard time keeping up with its latest chemical makeup. Synthetic pot, which first appeared in the United States in 2009, is also referred to as "spice" and sold under a variety of brand names in colorful wrappers.
Investigators found 221 probable cases from mid-August to mid-September in Colorado and dug deeper into 127 of those cases, all from the Denver area and Colorado Springs. Of those, 10 people were admitted into intensive care but no deaths were confirmed. Most of the patients - overwhelmingly male with a median age of 26 - were treated and released.
Of the 127 cases, 64 percent had high blood pressure, 32 percent said they were agitated and 25 percent reported confusion.
Four stores identified by patients as selling the synthetic pot were shut down by law enforcement, the report said.