DENVER - An investigation was launched after hospitals in the metro area saw an influx of synthetic marijuana related illness and three possible deaths.
"Initial reports show approximately 75 people who reported smoking a form of synthetic marijuana may have been seen at hospitals in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs beginning in late August. Several individuals were in intensive care and three deaths are being investigated as possibly associated," Dr. Tista Ghosh, interim chief medical officer for the state, said.
Ghosh has a strong warning for users of the drug.
"Don't wait for the results of this investigation. If you have synthetic marijuana, stop using it and destroy it," said Dr. Ghosh.
Synthetic marijuana products are illegal, but the makers are finding creative ways to skirt the laws.
"What the smart street chemists are doing is that they're changing the chemical structure of the molecule to try to put it in a category that's outside of the class of drugs that's illegal, so by changing the structure they're making it a 'legal substance,'" said Dr. Christopher Hoyte, assistant professor, department of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital.
Because the composition of the drug is always changing, doctors are not sure what's causing the bad reactions.
"Either it's a new cannabinoid that hasn't been discovered yet or it might be a contaminate in the batch that people are using," Hoyte said.
Friday morning, Samuel Alvarado says his son, Samuel Alvarado Jr., was rushed to the hospital after smoking synthetic marijuana. Alvarado says Thursday night and into Friday morning his son was hallucinating and feeling weak.
"He didn't have strength. His body was just like all loose. He couldn't sit. He couldn't stand. He couldn't talk. He couldn't even keep his eyes open, couldn't stand up. He had to hold onto the wall," Alvarado said.
The decision to take the 26-year-old to the hospital came after his father says he thought he might die.
Alvarado says his son purchased the substance from a store in the metro area. His son was released from Denver Health Friday evening.
State and local health officials will be working with local hospitals to complete chart reviews of patients who were sickened by the synthetic marijuana.
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