We’ve written in the past about the dangers of using illegal synthetic marijuana, with hospital officials reporting a spike in hospitalizations related to the drug in recent years. Now, officials in New York City say they suspect a strain called K2 caused 33 overdose in one particular area of Brooklyn where the drug is extremely popular.
The New York Times looked at the growing problem of K2 in an area of Brooklyn where two neighborhoods, Bedford-Stuyvestant and Bushwick, meet. There’s an area near a transit hub there, where locals have become used to seeing “zombies” stumbling around, out of their minds on the drug.
On Tuesday, emergency workers transported 33 people in that vicinity who were suspected of overdosing on K2 to hospitals, police said.
Eight were taken from one street suffering from “altered mental states,” lethargy and respiratory issues around 9:40 a.m., a spokesman for the Fire Department said, while others were found nearby.
Pairs of officers walked the surrounding area, checking the vital signs of people they found unconscious. Anyone unresponsive was taken away in an ambulance.
K2 and other synthetic marijuana drugs have been around for years, but its insidiousness in the homeless community led NYC health officials to declare it a public health crisis last summer.
Despite raids, arrests, and new legislation that banned synthetic cannabinoids, social service providers in the city say that enforcement in some areas has just pushed users and sellers to other neighborhoods.
Synthetic cannabinoids carry a real risk, Consumer Reports noted last month in an in-depth look at the drugs, no matter if they’re known as “spice,” “potpourri,” or K2, or whether they’re technically legal or not.
They’re manmade compounds that are often seen for sale at convenience stores alongside so-called natural “enhancement” pills and gum. They’ve been tweaked chemically so they’re stronger and more dangerous than naturally occurring marijuana, but not all versions are made the same: concentrations of active ingredient can vary widely from one hit to the next, Consumer Reports notes, and some products have been found to contain other psychoactive substances such as PCO and toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Getting “high” on a synthetic cannabinoid can be a wildly unpredictable experience, an experience that has been linked to thousands of emergency-room visits for problems like delirium, confusion, agitation, and violent behavior, plus an alarming uptick in calls to poison-control centers.
In NYC alone, the Health Department says more than 6,000 emergency room visits involving the drug and two deaths in 2015. One week in May that year saw 120 hospitalizations linked to a single brand of synthetic marijuana.
And although city officials announced an 85% drop in K2-related emergency room visits in May 2016, for those who live in areas where the drug has become prevalent say it’s taken a toll on their neighborhoods.
“It’s like a scene out of a zombie movie, a horrible scene,” one local who saw three people collapse while he was on his way to work told the NYT. “This drug truly paralyzed people.”
33 Suspected of Overdosing on Synthetic Marijuana in Brooklyn [New York Times]

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.