At least 52 people in Utah fell victim to a poisoning outbreak that was traced to synthetic cannabinoid (CBD) oil.
According to a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 of those who got sick were sent to the emergency room this past winter.
Fortunately, all victims survived.
According to the CDC report, the Utah Poison Control Center recorded five cases of people visiting the ER last December with symptoms of confusion, hallucinations, and seizures. Just before the symptoms started manifesting, the patients had taken a product that was marketed as containing CBD, which is the non-psychoactive component found in cannabis.
Many new users have turned to CBD as a way to get relief from pain, anxiety, and certain other health issues.
Different from other cannabis poisoning cases in other states
Poisoning outbreaks caused by synthetic and contaminated cannabis have been in the news recently. However, unlike these other cannabis poisoning incidents, the Utah victims were not aware that they bought synthetic weed.
The victims purchased what they believed was pure CBD oil. Many of them also bought these supposedly legally derived CBD products, such as “Yolo CBD Oil” brand from traditional smoking and head shops. Some said they acquired the oil from friends.
Most of the victims said that they bought the oil for recreational use, while only 15 said they used it for medical purposed. A majority of them also used it for vaping, while the rest used the oil sublingually.
According to lab tests done on the products that the patients had used, there are no traces of CBD in them. However, experts found 4-cyano CUMYL-BUTINACA (4-CCB), which is a synthetic cannabinoid that is designed to mimic the effects of THC.
Nine products with “Yolo CBD Oil” label were tested, and eight of them came out positive for 4-CCB. The brand’s label, however, did not indicate which company manufactured such products or which ingredients were included in their formulation.
Moreover, it was found that four of the five patients whose blood had been tested had 4-CCB in their systems.
Roberta Horth of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service said that synthetic cannabinoids, such as 4-CCB, interact with the same receptors as THC. However, their effects can be unpredictable and severe or life-threatening even.
Horth explained that based on the reported side effects of 4-CCB in case-patients, these side effects appear to be more severe than those of THC. There have been reported fatalities in Europe following the use of 4-CCB.
CDC encourages states to regulate CBD products
However, over the past few years, an increasing range of unregulated products that claim to contain CBD have been proliferating in the market. This puts consumers at risk of not only wasting their money but also of endangering their health.
According to Horth, CBD is illegal at the federal level, so product quality is not regulated at this level as well. And while there are states that allow the possession and sale of CBD, regulation differs in each jurisdiction. Horth noted that in Utah, these CBD products are not sold legally, so there is no way of ensuring that these products are 100 percent safe.
Legally speaking, CBD oil in Utah had previously been in a gray area. Since 2014, it has been legal for patients suffering from epilepsy, but no regulatory system has been put in place to oversee its safely.
Now, the CDC is asking the states to regulate cannabis oil extracts. It wants state officials to set up control and regulatory systems to minimize the risk for recurrences of the public health threat that is emerging now.