Patients harmed by heroin and synthetic cannabis

RRV with blue lights

NHS England has warned services this week after the number of patients seriously harmed from using synthetic cannabis has skyrocketed. 

The herbal mixtures and powders, sold as cannabis substitutes, contain powerful and harmful chemicals and recent cases have led to hospitalisations here in the UK, and deaths in other European countries. 

After releasing an alert to healthcare organisations across the country, NHS England is asking staff to be aware of the chance of toxicity in patients who have used a synthetic cannabinoid. 

What are synthetic cannabinoids? 

These drugs, sometimes referred to as ‘spice’, are intended to mimic the effects of cannabis; they’re commonly sold sprayed onto herbal material or as powder to be added to cigarettes. 

The most harmful chemicals are thought to be in brands like Vertex, Sweet Leaf Obliteration and Skyhigh – but they are likely to appear under other brand names as well. 

The chemicals currently causing the most concern are known as AB-CHMINICA, and MMB-CHMINACA (also known as MDMB-CHMICA). Currently, these drugs aren’t controlled. 

How would affected patients present? 

Reports suggest that acute toxicity can present as dizziness, persistent nausea or vomiting, chest pains, dyspnea, a fast or irregular heartbeat and convulsions. 

These effects should be managed symptomatically and, if you deem it appropriate, need urgent referral to A&E. Less severe or less acute physical or psychological problems should be assessed and managed symptomatically as for any other users of psychoactive drugs. 

Three deaths in region after heroin overdose

There have been three drug related deaths in Peterborough in the last six days, and one serious overdose relating to stronger purity heroin which is testing at four to five times the usual levels. 

Please be vigilant if you’re dealing with suspected overdoses in and around this area. 

To report any additional intelligence about the use and risks of synthetic cannabis please email

Published 23rd July 2015

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