DEA suspects synthetic pot causing illnesses in Colorado comes from China and Europe

DENVER - The Drug Enforcement Administration suspects the synthetic marijuana that has sent people to the hospital in Colorado is coming from China and Europe.

Barbara Roach, DEA Special Agent in Charge for Colorado and the Western Division, tells 7NEWS the synthetic drug may be from 5 to 800 times more potent than previous recipes that mimicked the potency of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in real marijuana.

"You don't know what's in it -- and the stuff can kill you," warned Roach.

She describes some of the reactions as "disturbing." 

 "Something as unusual as, after you've taken it, freezing almost like being a statue, and not being able to move," she said.

Roach told 7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart that the search for the source of the drug is making progress. In addition to the DEA's work, a team of investigators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in Colorado Monday.

"We have to identify who the distributors are," Roach said.  "They may distribute to 50 or 100 stores. So you kind of take it out by the root."

While the investigation progresses, Roach says she fears more people will be hospitalized. She specifically said she was worried more people will smoke "spice" because of the news coverage related to these illnesses.

Roach adds as the DEA tries to bust the distributors, local law enforcement continues its efforts to seize the drug from stores.

Three illnesses were reported Monday at University of Colorado Hospital. Two patients were reported at Denver Health Medical Center.

Dozens of patients have been treated for illness related to the synthetic marijuana and at least three deaths are also suspected of being linked to the drug. Symptoms include psychotic episodes, seizures, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting.

Denver Public Health officials have said the situation is being treated as a public health outbreak. Special notices have been sent to emergency rooms across the state notifying them of the health crisis.

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