Synthetic marijuana is a scourge on New York City, a nasty epidemic, according to the city’s Department of Health, that has emergency room personnel across the five boroughs at their wit’s end. It is for this reason the health agency issued a statement over the weekend, warning residents not to purchase or consume fake marijuana, which is often sold under the name K2 or Spice.  

This desperate plea for the public’s attention was made on Sunday after health officials became aware that 15 people had been treated, over a three-day span, in local emergency rooms for severe adverse reactions to synthetic cannabinoids. And while those numbers in a city with a population of over 8 million may not sound like any real cause for alarm, health officials insist “synthetic cannabinoids” continue to flood area hospitals as their popularity becomes more widespread. “The Department has seen a 220 percent increase in emergency department visits related to synthetic cannabinoids in 2014,” according to a press release.

In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation making synthetic weed illegal in the state of New York, a move that some attributed to the horror stories the portrayed by the media. “We are banning the sale of synthetic marijuana because, no matter what you call it, it’s clear that this is an illegal drug which is putting the health of New Yorkers, especially young adults, at risk,” Governor Cuomo told The New York Daily News.

Although synthetic marijuana is manufactured to simulate the effects of natural cannabis, the drug is known to be extremely unpredictable and can often come with devastating side effects. In fact, HIGH TIMES reported on a study last month in the journal Psychiatry that found synthetic weed contributed to a horrific case of catatonic psychosis. Another study published in January of 2014, found that emergency rooms across Denver had been experiencing an influx of patients suffering from symptoms of synthetic cannabinoid use, including heart murmurs and seizures.

"K2, Spice, Green Giant - no matter what you call it, synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous and illegal," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. "I urge people not to use these products, which have caused a huge spike in emergency room visits this year."

The Health Department is encouraging New Yorkers to report the sale of synthetic cannabinoids to 311, which will relay the report to the NYPD.