Study links 'spice' use to kidney damage

Synthetic pot tied to cases of kidney damage

Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Allan Rollins isn’t surprised by more evidence that smoking synthetic marijuana can be bad for your health.

He’s seen plenty of it for himself.

Rollins, whose job as a narcotics officer brings him into contact with users of synthetic marijuana – or “spice” – almost every day, said the damage is readily apparent to his eyes, even if the users ignore the dangers.

“It says right on the label, ‘Not for human consumption,’” Rollins said. “In police work, that’s called a clue.”

A recent report from the Cen­ters for Disease Control and Pre­vention links the use of spice to kidney damage. According to the report,
16 cases of acute kidney injury related to spice use were reported in six states in 2012.

The cases were first identified by the Wyoming Depart­ment of Health in March 2012, when four otherwise healthy men were hospitalized after smoking spice.

That led to a collaboration “among several state public health officials, poison center toxicologists, forensic laboratory scientists (and) individual clinicians,” which identified 12 more cases in Oregon, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Kansas.

“All 16 patients initially visited emergency departments and subsequently were hospitalized,” the report said. None died, but some required dialysis, the report said.

Dr. Luis Ortiz, who specializes in pediatric nephrology at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, said human kidneys, which clean toxins from the blood, aren’t designed to handle the types of chemicals associated with synthetic marijuana.

He said the chemicals can result in direct damage to kidney tissue and “acute renal failure” – when the kidneys basically shut down, allowing toxins to build up in the body.

Patients can be forced to have dialysis – in which machines clean the blood – three or four times a week. Sometimes kidneys recover and sometimes not, Ortiz said.

“Any patient with acute renal failure, we have to follow for years and years,” he said.

Rollins said he and other officers keep an eye out for spice, which is usually sold in “mom and pop” stores where buyers have to make a special request.

“They keep it in a separate drawer locked apart from everything else, and you have to ask for it,” Rollins said. “They know they are up to something wrong because they are hiding it.”

Rollins said the companies that make spice are continually changing the chemical formula to circumvent laws that prohibit certain compounds.

“When we first started off a few years ago, the list for outlawed chemical compounds fit on one page,” he said. Now that list
is up to 35 pages and continues to grow each year, he said.

Rollins hasn’t seen spice users hospitalized with kidney damage in Augusta, but it wouldn’t shock him if it began happening.

“It is hazardous material,” he said. “Some of these chemicals, the companies that make them haven’t even tested on lab rats because of the things they do to the body.”

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