Various media outlets have reported that Fentanyl-laced marijuana overdoses are on the rise, across the United States and in Canada. The majority of those reports have been debunked as a smokescreen.
Marijuana is currently more of a hot a topic than it has been in recent decades; therefore, media outlets are racing to the courthouse, and the coroner’s office, hoping to be the first to report that there might be something new and deadly wrong with it. Due diligence is being thrown out the door.
Conclusive, reported proof of Fentanyl-laced marijuana being sold, or causing deaths, has yet to emerge.
Melvin Patterson, a spokesman for the DEA stated: “In regard to marijuana, I’m not familiar with that.”
In a recent case that was syndicated nationally by State House News Service, a Yarmouth, Massachusetts man overdosed on marijuana that was possibly laced with Fentanyl. State House reported that the Yarmouth Police Department said in a statement that its officers “believe that it is possible that the marijuana was laced with Fentanyl, which police are starting to see more and more across the country.”
An email from Deputy Chief of Police Steven G. Xiarhos said however, that, while the person who overdosed and his girlfriend stated to police officers that they did not, and do not use heroin/Fentanyl, “He may not have been 100 percent truthful, and hiding the fact they used heroin.”
Xiarhos went on to say, “We found no evidence of heroin in the room. We only found marijuana. The marijuana-related items were seized, and we are awaiting potential test results.”
Time will tell if the man’s bong has traces of Fentanyl in it.
Even so, while it is possible that his marijuana was laced with Fentanyl, pending further investigation, there won’t be any clear-cut proof that he unknowingly purchased it that way.
The likelihood of weed dealers cutting their buds with expensive Fentanyl is far-fetched.
Unless there is some dastardly dealer out there who is on par with the random psychopath who tampered with and contaminated aspirin bottles in the 1980s, there is a glaring lack of motive. Killing your clients will definitely not make them return to buy another baggie of bud.
There have been elusive reports of people burning transdermal Fentanyl patches, gel coating and all. No street dealer is bothering with this. If there is a risk, it would be with crushed pills.
It therefore seems more likely that some opioid users also smoke marijuana and are possibly combining the two substances. Reefer madness aside, while Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is easy to overdose on, marijuana is neither.
While marijuana legalization is gaining momentum worldwide, last March, the United Nations banned two chemicals used to make Fentanyl.
While it’s highly unlikely that anyone, including the man from Yarmouth, needed two shots of Narcan* to recover from a marijuana overdose, that still doesn’t necessarily mean this man’s marijuana came laced with Fentanyl.
London, Ontario marijuana activist Eric Shepperd is inclined to agree.
“I’m not sure if the report here is necessarily accurate by those who reported smoking only marijuana,” he said. “They may have done something else and are just declining to speak about it. That does happen from time to time.”
According to a report by Ontario-based media outlet the London Free Press, Dr. Mike Hart, who operates the Ready To Go medical cannabis clinic in London, Ontario, said he’s never heard of a case where Fentanyl has been put in marijuana.
“I’ve never heard of this happening before. I think it could possibly be difficult to detect in someone who’s an inexperienced user, because you’re not sure if you’re feeling different because of the cannabis or feeling different because of the Fentanyl,” he said.
“The safest way to get cannabis is to go to a medical clinic and get a physician to prescribe you cannabis that’s specifically for you, is the right ratio and the right strain,” he added.
Dr. Andrew Kerklaan, president and founder of Dr. Kerklaan Therapeutics, was inclined to agree: “It is likely someone who has mixed drugs prior to overdose.”
Of course, the experts don’t always agree.
Dr. Kirk Maxey, told VICE, to test suspected synthetic opioids, that not only would such a mixture be rare—it might not even be scientifically possible.
“Documenting the pipe chemistry of Fentanyl in leaf material would be a research paper,” he told HIGH TIME. “And I don’t think it has been done yet.”
While Kerklaan agreed that he would be surprised if such research has been done, he stated in theory, the chemistry of mixing Fentanyl with marijuana is possible, purely from a temperature standpoint.
“Fentanyl has a flash point below 392° Fahrenheit (200° Celsius); meaning, it creates vapor at this point,” he explained. “Vaporizing cannabis is achieved between 302° Fahrenheit and 392° Fahrenheit (150° and 200° Celsius), so there is overlap there.”
“Fentanyl is also quickly absorbed through the mucosa of the mouth,” Kerklaan continued. “This could also mean that edibles could potentially be laced with Fentanyl. Personally, as a parent, this is one of my concerns—kids being introduced to Fentanyl without being aware, by eating something or smoking something that is laced. I haven’t read of any cases of this however.”
Some instances of parental panic can be attributed to Cincinnati coroner Lakshmi Sammarco’s report that, “We have [also] seen Fentanyl mixed with marijuana.”
Her office did not elucidate which particular methodology is used to determine that a body came in with Fentanyl-laced marijuana in its system, as opposed to marijuana in addition to opioids.
When VICE contacted Sammarco for clarification, she told them that her quote had been taken out of context. In fact, her office hasn’t seen Fentanyl-laced marijuana at all.
She added that U.S. Senator Rob Portman told her it had been spotted in northeast Ohio. She said that she didn’t know the senator’s source of this information.
There are no confirmed cases of Fentanyl-laced marijuana deaths anywhere in the country, but law enforcement officials, in response to Ohio’s rampant opioid epidemic, have issued recent warnings about the risk. These warnings were most likely misinterpreted.
Instead of trying to scare people into avoiding using marijuana, lest it be contaminated by the Fentanyl boogie man, it would be a lot more accurate to simply warn the general public not to mix marijuana with potentially fatal Fentanyl.
Better yet, it is more advisable to lay off opioids entirely, and simply consume cannabis, preferably from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary.
Kerklaan concurred: “This fentanyl scare can also be seen as reason to legalize and fully regulate the production of marijuana. Look to Canada for the strident criteria that are in place for legal marijuana producers. The public has access to marijuana from a controlled, strict environment.”
*Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan among others, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose. Naloxone may be combined within the same pill as an opioid to decrease the risk of misuse.