A synthetic marijuana product named “AK-47 24 Karat Gold” or “K2” caused a mass intoxication in Brooklyn, New York, back in July, characterized by a profound depressive effect which many sources have labeled as “zombie-like.”

Other synthetic marijuana products are known to cause seizures, organ malfunction, and even death, while “AK-47 24 Karat Gold” only caused a zombification effect. Over 33 people were diagnosed with marijuana overdose, mainly due to them smoking K2, AK-47, or Spice, a new drug that’s based on marihuana but whose effect is several times stronger. A video of the zombie horde can be seen here.

Zombie, drugs, Brooklyn
A man who apparently consumed K2 walks in front of a fire hydrant. Image credit: Arthur SpmgEnt Brian via Facebook.

A new type of drug that’s hard to eradicate

Apparently, the drug had a compound known as AMB-FUBINACA, which is much stronger than the chemicals found in other strains of synthetic marijuana. Researchers note that AMB-FUBINACA is 85 stronger than THC.

There is still no conclusion as to why the drug caused such an effect, as many attribute it to an exaggerated dosage in the product’s packets. Synthetic marijuana is created by infusing the buds with a specific chemical to increase its psychotic potential, but the process is often wrongfully performed, resulting in what is known as “misdosing.”

One of the greater issues with synthetic marijuana is that it cannot be detected through regular drug screenings. This is because drug tests are made for specific drugs, where, for example, a person using only cocaine will be a negative on a marijuana test.

Also, producing the drug is very profitable. The AMB-FUBINACA powder is sold at a price of $1.95 to $3.80 per gram. Mixing 1kg of AMB-FUBINACA with 66kg of plant material would produce over 15,000 packets with 4g of the product each, being sold at $35 per packet.

There are thousands of synthetic marijuana drugs available, a proof that new compounds are created constantly and each of them features a different chemical composition, making them almost impossible to spot using dedicated tests.

To analyze the drug responsible for the New York zombie outbreak, researchers analyzed blood and urine samples from a handful of intoxicated individuals. Standard methods would require the research team to find a commercial reference standard to weigh the compounds found in the samples. Because this is very difficult, they opted for developing compounds that are expected to hit the market in the form of new versions of synthetic marijuana. This proved to be successful for spotting AMB-FUBINACA.

These drugs are usually sold as an “herbal incense” and are not discovered until authorities get reports of their effects among people. Since 2014, at least 200 types of synthetic marijuana have been identified, where most of them come from labs residing in China and Southeast Asia.

“Identification of the responsible agent requires collaboration among clinical laboratories, health professionals, law enforcement agencies, and synthetic organic chemists so that timely information about the causative agent can be disseminated,” recommended the authors of the study.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine