April 6 (UPI) -- Illinois authorities said Friday they are looking at possibly a third death in the last few weeks linked to synthetic marijuana.
The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said the newest death, of a 22 year-old woman, was found during autopsy to have involved excessive internal bleeding.
Autopsies last month of two others indicated severe bleeding and the presence of brodifacoum, an ingredient found in rat poison, in synthetic marijuana they had used.
Since March 7, 89 cases have been linked to use of synthetic cannabinoids, the Illinois Department of Public Health said.
The department announced last week the first victim had been linked to synthetic pot.
Three people have been arrested in the case.
Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or converted to liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes. They are sold for recreational drug use under the names K2, Spice, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Genie, Zohai and others.
Manufacturers of synthetic marijuana alter its formula slightly to evade drug laws, and market the product as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana. The chemicals act on brain receptors and produce results similar to that of marijuana use, experts say.
Synthetic marijuana can cause life-threatening, severe internal bleeding.
"This poisoning is unique in that its effects can last weeks to months," said Dr. Jenny Lu, a toxicologist and emergency medicine physician at Chicago's Stroger Hospital. "Symptoms may range from unexplained bruising, bleeding from the nose or gums, blood in the urine or stools, coughing up or vomiting blood, to bleeding in the brain.
"As bleeding can be life-threatening, it is important that people who have used synthetic marijuana seek medical attention at the first sign of poisoning so we can begin treatment right away."