Pubdate: Tue, 15 Apr 2008
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: 6, Section F
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Author: Denise Grady
Note: The New England Journal of Medicine two page LTE complete with 
table and pictures is on line at
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


They had stomach cramps, nausea, anemia and fatigue, and some even 
had a telltale bluish line along their gums -- classic signs of lead 
poisoning. But the cases, last year in Leipzig, Germany, puzzled 
doctors. Lead poisoning is rare in Germany, and yet here were 29 
cases in just a few months. The doctors noticed a pattern: the 
patients were young, from 16 to 33; they were students or unemployed; 
and they had body piercings and a history of smoking.

In a letter published Thursday in The New England Journal of 
Medicine, the doctors wrote, "On questioning, all the patients 
eventually conceded that they were regular users of marijuana."

Three provided samples for testing. Sure enough, their marijuana was 
full of lead. One bag bought from a dealer even contained lead 
particles big enough to see, which meant the lead must have been 
added deliberately, rather than being absorbed into the plant from 
contaminated soil.

The core temperature of a joint can reach nearly 2,200 degrees 
Fahrenheit, the doctors noted -- more than hot enough to melt lead, 
which can be absorbed through the respiratory tract.

The poisoning was widely reported by German newspapers and 
television, and an anonymous lead-screening program was set up for 
marijuana users. Among 145 people who showed up for testing, 95 more 
cases were found.

The authorities do not know where the tainted marijuana came from or 
why the lead was added, but the German police suspect that it was 
done to make money. The samples tested contained 10 percent lead by 
weight, which translates into an increased profit of about $682 per 
pound of marijuana.

The patients are recovering and taking medicines called chelating 
agents to help remove the lead from their bodies. But it could take 
years to clear it completely, particularly from bones. And some were 
quite disillusioned to learn that poison was added to what they 
thought was a pure, all-natural product, said their doctor, Prof. 
Michael Stumvoll of University Hospital in Leipzig, who commented, "How naive!" 
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