What is K2, the drug involved in a mass overdose in one city park?

Authorities are reporting that in one day, at least 76 people have overdosed in New Haven, Connecticut. Over 50 of the overdoses happened in one city park near the famous Yale University.

Emergency services have reported that more calls are coming in, and that although none of the victims have died, some are in critical condition.

What happened?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration swooped to the scene, and through testing found that the drug responsible was a synthetic marijuana product called K2.

K2 and other synthetic marijuana drugs — like spice and black mamba — are made of psychoactive chemicals consumed in one of two ways: by being sprayed onto plant material that can be smoked, or as a liquid inhaled via vapes or e-cigarettes.

Though marketed as a marijuana alternative, K2 is chemically different from actual marijuana. K2 is formulated to mimic the effect of THC by activating two receptors in the body called CB1 and CB2. However, the formula can vary somewhat (formulas are sometimes tweaked to get around legal restrictions), making the drug unpredictable and potentially very dangerous.

Severe side effects of taking K2 have included seizures, anxiety, heart attacks, kidney failure, elevated blood pressure, psychosis and death. But because the chemical structure of K2 can differ somewhat from place to place, weirder symptoms have been noted. For example, earlier this year in Illinois, nearly 40 K2-takers were hospitalized with severe bleeding from the eyes, ears and other body parts.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in 2015, 7,794 reports were made to poison control centers because of adverse health effects from people using synthetic marijuana.

It’s still unclear what chemical in the New Haven K2 may have led to the overdoses. Some have suggested that the K2 taken at the park contained PCP, a dissociative anesthetic also known as angel dust. Others have suggested that an opioid, such as the potent fentanyl or carfentanil, was involved.

A man who may have been giving out free samples of K2 in the park was arrested in connection to the case.

Neogen offers more than 100 ELISA test kits that can detect over 300 drug analytes and metabolites, including synthetic cannabinoids. See our website for more information.

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