Pubdate: Thu, 10 Apr 2008
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2008 Reuters
Note: The New England Journal of Medicine letter, with a table and 
pictures, is at
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


Drug dealers looking for extra profits apparently added lead flakes to
packets of marijuana, inflating their value while causing dozens of
cases of serious poisoning, doctors in Germany reported today.

The lead made up, on average, 10 per cent of the material in the
marijuana packets, boosting profits by about $US1,500 ($A1,613) per
kilogram, Franzika Busse of University Hospital Leipzig reported.

"One package contained obvious lead particles; this strongly indicated
that the lead was deliberately added to the package rather than
inadvertently incorporated into the marijuana plants from contaminated
soil," the researchers wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of

The problem was discovered last year when the first of 29 patients,
aged 16 to 33, started showing up in four Leipzig hospitals with
abdominal cramps, fatigue, nausea and varying degrees of anemia. One
was ill enough to be suffering from hallucinations.

It took eight weeks to uncover a common pattern: all were young,
smoked, had body piercings and were either students or unemployed. All
regularly used marijuana.

Three patients brought in their stashes. All samples tested positive
for lead contamination, with one having lead flakes that were obvious
under a microscope.

After two more weeks, an anonymous screening program for marijuana
users uncovered 95 other people who needed treatment.

Busse's colleague, Dr Michael Stumvoll, said in an email that about
200 people had now been identified. The screening was continuing, he
said, although it did not appear that the practice was continuing
among dealers.

"The medical community, including pediatricians, should consider
adulterated marijuana as a potential source of lead intoxication," the
German team wrote.
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