Carnival season kicked off in New Orleans this past weekend, heralding the return of a favorite seasonal baked good: king cake. If you've ever been in the Big Easy during this pre-Lenten season—or if you've ever celebrated Three Kings Day, the January 6 Christian celebration that commemorates the Magi's visit to baby Jesus soon after his birth—then you're likely familiar with the rich, festively decorated pastry typically shared during the holidays. Recipes for king cake vary worldwide, but one thing the sweets have in common is a hidden trinket, figurine, or even a bean that gets baked inside. The eater who gets the slice with the prize is king (or queen) for a day. King cake is pretty much defined by its signature—and surprise—reward, but last month, one Southern California bakery decided to up its king cake's ante by lacing it with something extra-illicit: synthetic pot. And speaking of secret, the bakery didn't tell any of its customers.
In the days following January 6, visitors to Cholula's Bakery in Santa Ana complained of dizziness, heart palpitations, and numbness, among other symptoms. The more than 40 victims checked in to at least three local hospitals complaining of food poisoning after eating the bakery's Rosca de Reyes, a Latin American version of king cake accentuated with candied fruit and, you know, JWH-122, aka "spice," "incense," or "K2." The revelers—including a four-year-old boy—thought they were ill, but it turns out they were just high.
On January 7th, Cholula's was temporarily shut down and all its king cakes confiscated to be tested in independent labs. The results showed that the bakery's Rosco was more space cake than king cake.
"The levels in the cake are not small," Neil Spingarn, a pharmacologist with S&N Laboratories who tested the sample, told CBS News. "What is most striking is that this was not inadvertent."
The market for edibles is a booming one in Colorado, where sales of pot sodas, coffees, and candies have been legal since last January, and the snacks are regularly "prescribed" in California's dispensaries. But it's unclear why the bakery would lace its king cake without telling anyone, and even less clear why it would choose to use synthetic pot, whose use has been linked to "intense hallucinations" and "psychotic episodes," according to the DEA. Cholula's Three Kings Day drug fest was not the smartest move legally—the Santa Ana police department is currently treating the case as a criminal investigation.
In the meantime, however, the bakery remains open, ready to meet SoCal's needs for cakes shaped like teeth, makeup bags, and strippers. Terrifying, pyschosis-inducing highs possibly included with purchase.