Is Fentanyl-Laced Weed Still Just a Myth?

Stephen Andrews
13 Dec 2021

In November, a news story broke that a person overdosed and needed to be revived with CPR and multiple doses of Narcan after supposedly smoking marijuana laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid. The case was handled by police officials in Brattleboro who, two weeks after the incident, informed the public they had arrested three people for selling suspected fentanyl-laced pot. There were immediate fears more local marijuana users had been exposed to a much dangerous substance which they never intended to buy or consume.


When agents with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration disclosed their lab results of drug-checking the suspected fentanyl-laced marijuana last Thursday (Dec 9), they said fentanyl was not detected in the seized plant material. That's a relief, fortunately!

It's needless to speak how dangerous fentanyl can be. It's a powerful medication to treat pain, and in a combo with other medicines, fentanyl is used for anesthesia. As a recreational drug, it's sometimes added in heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. An overdose with fentanyl can be fatal unless antidote drugs are quickly administered to the intoxicated person.

Various news sites picked the story with Vermont's fentanyl-laced marijuana. Initially, WCAX published a very short article on Nov 21, saying: "Police are warning Vermonters that fentanyl-laced marijuana has been found in our region, and it caused one person to overdose Saturday." 

More extensive coverage on the topic followed the next day, such as this piece from Brattleboro Reformer.

Looking at the recent news on fentanyl-laced marijuana, a day before the Vermont case was reported, on Nov 20, CBS News reported that health officials in Connecticut had issued a warning about fentanyl-laced marijuana as well. CBS News wrote: "Since July, 39 overdoses requiring the use of naloxone for revival have been reported. In each case, the person involved said they had only smoked marijuana, but officials said they exhibited opioid symptoms."

According to CBS, a lab test on marijuana in one of several samples seized in Plymouth, where a cluster of overdose cases were reported throughout October, confirmed the presence of fentanyl. 

Dr. Manisha Juthani, Department of Public Health Commissioner, said in a statement, "This is the first lab-confirmed case of marijuana with fentanyl in Connecticut and possibly the first confirmed case in the United States."

Vermont authorities have withdrawn public health warnings in the meantime, but Connecticut officials insist the risk of fentanyl-laced marijuana in street drugs is real. The dissonance in the statements coming from law and health authorities has, however, caused drug policy advocates to express suspicion whether this is just another drug panic narrative sown by police. 

fentanyl laced marijuana, myth or real?
Person holding chunks of weed in their palms. Visual and smell inspection can often tell if there is something wrong with your marijuana purchase.

Pot laced with fentanyl is 'just bad business'

It's highly unlikely that someone will lace weed with fentanyl, but the substance might be present in other street drugs.

Monica Donovan, CEO and founder of the cannabis website Heady Vermont, recently likened "fentanyl-laced marijuana" headlines to "a scarce-tactic bulletin from local police." 

Donovan wrote, "fentanyl-laced weed is a myth and a frequent scare tactic used by law enforcement. Fentanyl is far more expensive per gram than cannabis — and a grower gains nothing by killing their customers. It's just bad business, don't you think?"

Skeptics such as Donovan argue that it's far more likely that drug consumers are acting deceptively with the police and emergency medical responders when they say they've merely smoked marijuana, which is legal in both Vermont and Connecticut. Perhaps they are attempting to conceal opioid use and avoid criminal charges. 

Another argument is the steady pace of supposed overdoses from laced cannabis in Connecticut, which have been reported infrequently over the period of several months, and in various towns and cities around the state. 

The typical pattern of overdose clusters when fentanyl-laced drugs appear in a particular area looks a bit different, according to Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a physician and Harvard Medical School instructor who specializes in cannabis. 

"If this was real, you'd most likely see a whole bunch of cases all in the same area at once, not overdoses here and there," Grinspoon told Boston Globe

However, Grinspoon added, he and colleagues are facing an increased number of patients who accidentally overdosed on fentanyl after taking what they thought was another drug. 

"Fentanyl has 'colonized' whole swaths of the illicit drug market; it didn't used to be in cocaine or heroin or [painkiller] pills that people would buy on the street, but now it is," he said. "That makes me think that [the recent reports of laced marijuana] could be plausible, even if it used to be an urban myth."

is fentanyl laced with weed true or false?
Prices may be higher, but marijuana from legal dispensaries is likely far safer than any street deal.

This is not the first time fentanyl-laced weed is in the news

Major news outlets and advocacy groups have debunked the fentanyl-laced cannabis myth in the past, including Buzzfeed and Snopes

Fentanyl in marijuana has been, perhaps until now, just one of many drug panic narratives. Not much different than the talks about Halloween candies laced with pot being handed out to kids. The Halloween candy rumors have returned seasonally in the United States over the past couple of years, and last October the fad spread to Europe, where Ireland's Department of Education issued an official warning about pot-infused Halloween candy.

It remains dubious, to think that someone would really spend their precious stash to poison innocent kids for Halloween. There has been a lack of evidence to make such claims, while the headlines themselves appear more damaging and more likely to incite people in misconduct by giving them the wrong ideas.

A lot of these ominous reports on cannabis are comparable to being onion news. All they do is cause panic and damage the sector's reputation. However, they are repeatedly picked by the media, and there's nothing that indicates such reports will stop appearing as juicy, attention-grabbing, click-bait-designed headlines in the future. 

For what it's worth, consumers should remain aware that there always is a chance that any substance, including weed, bought on the street — may not be what it appears to be. 

Purchasing legal products from dispensaries could be a higher cost, but at least you can rest assured those goodies have been tested, as required by law, for the presence of various contaminants. And for those states that still do not have a legal recreational market, perhaps, the only solution to fight illegal drugs on the street is to introduce regulated markets.

S
Stephen Andrews