'Because these products are not regulated, it's hard to know the chemical make-up, source and distribution'.
"Manufacturers have adapted by replacing the strain of a banned synthetic cannabinoid or cathinone with a newer version that is not yet on the market and not yet known to authorities", the office reported.
That's almost triple the number reported last week when IL health officials first warned of the new side effect of the drug known as "fake weed", "K2" and "spice".
Synthetic marijuana can be found in convenience stores, novelty stores, drug paraphernalia shops, and online. Health officials in IL are struggling to identify the source of synthetic marijuana that has caused severe bleeding among users and, in some cases, death.
Among the 56 IL cases reported as of Monday, 54 were reported from Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kankakee, McLean, Peoria, Tazewell and Will counties, and two cases are under investigation.
"We continue to see the number of cases rise", Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in the statement. The users were hospitalized - and two of them died - after coughing up blood, finding blood in their urine or bleeding from their noses or gums, officials said.
Four other cases are under investigation.
The man-made "alternative to marijuana" is a chemical sprayed on dried plant material, then smoked or sold as liquid to be vaporized on e-cigarettes or other devices. "There's hundreds of them, in fact, and even in the setting of this outbreak when we've been interviewing our cases, we've heard of dozens of names that these are going under", Arwady said. "Or if this is potentially a new side effect of a new synthetic cannabinoid".
These products can be toxic, and people who smoke them also can react with rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hallucinations, according to the CDC. "Synthetic cannabinoids are unsafe", he said.
The federal government has banned many specific synthetic cannabinoids, and many state and local governments have passed laws targeting other risky synthetic cannabinoids.
In the 1980s, synthetic cannabinoids were considered research compounds but they are now produced overseas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the effects of those chemicals on a person are, according to IDPH, quite unsafe. All three men are in custody awaiting court hearings. "We're working with numerous different partners across the city and state as we investigate this outbreak".