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'Fake weed' tied to 46 cases of severe bleeding in central Illinois

State officials in Illinois are trying to trace a batch of synthetic cannabinoids — commonly called "fake weed" — that has led to one death and 45 other cases of severe bleeding in Chicago and across central Illinois. All of the cases required hospitalization, and three of the victims tested positive for rat poison, CNN reported Monday.

Synthetic cannabinoids — man-made chemicals that are similar to the mind-altering substances found in marijuana — can be up to 85 times as potent as their natural counterparts. They're sold everywhere from convenience stores to novelty shops to online, but often contain a "variety" of compounds that users might not know about, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Even though they are considered by some to be a safer alternative to marijuana, the health risks can be serious, including vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, and even heart attacks.

"This is the first time we've seen an outbreak of this magnitude in the area," said Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health, on Monday. Before this spate of cases, a death related to synthetic weed had never been reported in Chicago.

Countrywide, though, cases of synthetic weed-related poisoning rose sharply from 2010 to 2015. Communities including the county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York, have experienced similar outbreaks of illness related to fake weed in recent years. And given the number of cases in Illinois, "there could be additional deaths coming," Arnold said. Officials are focusing on "outreach to notify any who may be impacted by this outbreak."

Read more about synthetic cannabinoids at CNN.