Yesterday, the Washington State Department of Health sounded the alarm over fentanyl overdoses in a news release—and immediately started blaming dispensaries, because cannabis could theoretically be laced with the deadly drug. But journalists and researchers are wondering if these so-called fentanyl-laced weed overdoses actually even exist, or if the sources of this information have any merit in reality.
“Fentanyl-related overdoses are increasing across the state,” the officials wrote. “Now, state health officials are asking that people carry naloxone if they plan on consuming any drug not purchased at a pharmacy or cannabis dispensary or have friends and family that do.”
Buzzfeed called the fentanyl-laced cannabis myth “the hardiest urban legend of the U.S. overdose crisis,” and it sure is hard to tell, when the myth is routinely perpetuated by state and federal officials, and shared constantly by law enforcement. Seasoned cannabis consumers are baffled as to why anyone would lace weed with an hard-to-obtain, deadly drug that is more expensive than cannabis, per gram. The officials did not stop there, however.
“Assume that any substance that you do not purchase at a pharmacy or cannabis dispensary contains fentanyl.”
The release indicated that preliminary data shows 418 overdose deaths in the first three months of 2021—compared to 378 overdose deaths in the first three months of 2020. Of the 418 overdose deaths in 2021, 46 percent (191) of those deaths are linked to fentanyl. Many of those deaths, tragically, involved people under 30 years of age—with their whole life in front of them. It proves the point that people who use fentanyl and other opioids should carry naloxone nearby.
Just last month, Georgia officials issued a warning for fentanyl overdoses—again, trying to blame it on marijuana. “At this time, ALL recreational use narcotics, including marijuana, should be considered a serious threat to life safety,” the Camden County Emergency Management Agency wrote in a Saturday Facebook post. Police departments in Kingsland and St. Mary’s, two neighboring local cities, issued similar warnings.
Fentanyl itself is amazingly effective at stopping breathing in individuals: “Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage,” the DEA says, but the organization also says that “no deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported.” Even the DEA admits it.
But are there any verified instances of fentanyl-laced weed? Or is it just another reason for misplaced hysteria—like the “Great Vape Scare,” or the annual warnings about so-called people handing out edibles during Halloween?
Are People Just Making Up Stories About Fentanyl-Laced Weed?
Journalist and paramedic Claire Zagorski, MSc, LP from Filter magazine slammed sensationalist journalism—including a questionable article from the Washington Post—about fentanyl-laced marijuana. Kellyanne Conway, the White House’s former opioid crisis czar, was one of the myth’s biggest spreaders. “People are unwittingly ingesting it,” Conway said. “It’s laced into heroin, marijuana, meth, cocaine and it’s also just being distributed by itself.”
So where did the fentanyl-laced weed myth begin?
The fentanyl-laced weed myth picked up steam in 2017, when Hamilton County, Ohio coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said in a press conference that “we have seen fentanyl mixed with cocaine, we have also seen fentanyl mixed with marijuana.”
But after follow-up scrutiny in a Vice piece, Sammarco was forced to admit that she had not seen evidence of fentanyl-laced cannabis, just parroting what her co-presenter, U.S. Senator Rob Portman, had told her. And this was said without any reliable sources. Further reporting in the Cincinnati Inquirer found no solid evidence of fentanyl-laced cannabis—just wild speculations, and they cited several sources including various coroner’s offices and a DEA spokesperson.
Most likely, fentanyl-laced weed stories are more fiction than fact, and there is little, if any evidence to back up stories. In most cases, police departments surmise different ways that fentanyl could be disguised and distributed.