Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lead in Marijuana Causes Poisoning

Twenty patients were recently admitted to University Hospital Leipzig, Germany for the treatment of lead poisoning after smoking marijuana. Admissions occurred over a period of 3-4 months, and all of the patients were 16 to 33 years of age.

One of the patient required abdominal surgery, one had severe mental changes as the result of encephalopathy (brain disease); accompanied by hallucinations. Primary symptoms included abdominal cramps, nausea, anemia, and fatigue. Another patient experienced permanent paralysis of the forearm.

Investigation uncovered a common pattern among those treated – all were young, unemployed, or were students, and they all provided a history of smoking. Additionally, they all had body piercings; eventually admitting to smoking marijuana with a water pipe, or rolled into a joint.

It took eight weeks to find the source of the problem - it seems that lead was deliberately added to the marijuana to increase the weight and street value by an estimated 10%. The lead, grayish in appearance, was not noticeable to the consumers.

The patients were treated with chelation therapy after a quick diagnosis, but it took some time to track down the cause of the poisonings. A full criminal investigation was then launched, as well as an anonymous screening program for marijuana users. Of the 145 persons who used the service, 95 were found to require treatment for dangerous levels of lead in the blood stream. Lead is effectively absorbed by the respiratory tract.

Source: NEJM