There’s been a lot of recent news media reports and statements from high-ranking elected officials about the dangers of fentanyl-laced cannabis. They claim that there’s been a rise in dealers cutting cannabis with fentanyl and selling it to unsuspecting consumers
This makes for great headlines. But there is little truth behind it. In fact, there is no evidence that cannabis is being intentionally laced with fentanyl–in the U.S. or anywhere else.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid used to treat post-surgical pain or chronic pain for those with a tolerance to other opioids. It is a controlled substance that can be administered safely under the strict supervision of a medical professional. But recently, fentanyl has become the face of the opioid epidemic due to its widespread use as a cheap, potent additive in other drugs sold illegally.
Fentanyl overdose is now the number one cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 56,516 overdose deaths in 2020 involving synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. That’s more than 150 deaths per day.
The ubiquity of illicitly-manufactured fentanyl is one of the gravest public health concerns of modern times— and unfortunately, the subject of much misinformation. Some common falsehoods include: fentanyl is Naloxone-resistant (Naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to reverse an opioid overdose), that simply touching fentanyl can cause an overdose, and that cannabis products are being laced with fentanyl and sold to consumers.
But in fact, “there are no scientifically verified reports of fentanyl contamination of cannabis products,” according to a guide published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services. A separate report from the Ontario Harm Reduction Network found zero cases of fentanyl present in cannabis in Canada. And most recently, the American Addiction Centers’ Chief Medical Officer told WebMD that “there is no scientific data that would validate the assumption [that fentanyl-laced cannabis is causing widespread fatalities] thus far.”
Just because a person tests positive for both fentanyl and THC does not mean they consumed contaminated cannabis. THC is detectable in the body up to 30 days after consumption–so cannabis could have been consumed weeks prior to testing positive for fentanyl.
Yet there is an abundance of “reports” from law enforcement and others sounding the alarm of an alleged proliferation of overdoses resulting from fentanyl-laced cannabis. To far less fanfare, these claims are quietly retracted as new information emerges, and no evidence of adulterated cannabis is actually found. Police in Vermont, for example, reported an overdose resulting from fentanyl-laced cannabis. But months later, they admitted the test was inaccurate.
A situation in Connecticut is also worth noting. Last February, health officials reported 39 cases of overdoses linked to fentanyl-laced cannabis. Public panic ensued, fueled by sensational media reports. But it turned out that only one case tested positive for fentanyl, which was “likely accidental contamination and an isolated incident.” The fentanyl detected in the cannabis was likely due to cross-contamination, a result of improper equipment cleaning. There is no evidence that the fentanyl was intentionally mixed with cannabis with the intent to sell it.
The availability of fentanyl-laced drugs is a legitimate public health and safety concern and a real danger to society. But deliberate scare tactics designed to justify increased enforcement of drug-related crimes are not legitimate solutions.
Bad information leads to bad public policies.
Cannabis is medicine for some and is consumed responsibly by millions of adults across the country. Some studies even suggest that cannabis can potentially reduce opioid use and exposure to fentanyl. Misinformation and “Reefer Madness” sensationalism impede laws to legalize and expand access to safe cannabis.
There is a solution: Mandatory laboratory testing–coupled with common-sense regulations and adequate access to legal cannabis for patients and consumers.
Fear mongering, rumors, and misinformation are not credible nor effective public health and safety strategies.
For more information about fentanyl, check out Drug Policy Alliance’s “10 Facts About Synthetic Opioids (Fentanyl).”
For information on Naloxone, check out the CDC’s resource here.