Introduction: Use of synthetic cannabinoids (SC) has recently emerged as a new drug epidemic. Our emergency departments (EDs) received a surge of SC users presenting with lethargy and bradycardia, contrasting prior reports of SC-induced tachycardia and agitation.Our goal was to describe these novel presentations and characterize the compounds.
Methods: We present a case series of patients with SC intoxication who presented to our toxicology service covering two tertiary care EDs between 2/11/2015 and 6/23/2015. A retrospective chart review recorded initial vital signs, chief complaint and clinical course. Urine, blood and xenobiotic samples were analyzed using either liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. We compared resulting spectra against databases containing numerous SCs or metabolites and scored based on a reference comparison.
Results: Between 2/11/2015 and 6/23/2015, we identified 141 visits. Males comprised 139 visits (age range 21-68 years; median 35, interquartile range 20). Sixty-eight percent presented with lethargy or loss of consciousness. Hypotension (SBP <90 mmHg) and bradycardia (HR<60 bpm) were seen in 10% and 24% of visits, respectively. While most patients were discharged after observation, three were admitted to the intensive care unit and seven to telemetry. Admissions were for vital sign instability, bradycardia requiring pacing, prolonged sedation and respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation.Laboratory analysis revealed SC in the XLR-11 family in 18/36 drug, 9/12 blood, and 23/31 urine samples. Carboxamide indazole derivative (CID) family compounds were detected in 13/36 drug samples, 21/31 urine samples, but no blood samples; 11/31 drug samples contained both XLR-11 and CID. Other compounds detected included PB-22 and nicotine. No JWH compounds, opiates, imidazoline receptor agonists, benzodiazepines or other sedative-hypnotics were detected.
Conclusion: Unlike their predecessors, novel SC may be associated with significant central nervous system depression and bradycardia. While prior reports indicated that SC mostly contained JWH compounds, none were detected in these samples. The most commonly identified compounds in this series were CID and alkyl SC derivatives, such as INACA compounds and XLR-11. These tend to be full agonists at the cannabinoid receptor and are presumably more potent. The lack of other depressants suggests that the clinical findings are due to the combination of these compounds and not coingestants or adulterants. SC intoxication should be considered for patients with undifferentiated psychomotor depression and bradycardia.