In recent weeks, news outlets around the country have been running stories about the dangers of fentanyl-laced cannabis. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is perhaps best known as a substance used to cut other illicit drugs to make them more potent, and as a result more dangerous. Which is to say, fentanyl-laced cannabis would be a real problem. The thing is, it might not be a real problem.
In November, there were reports from Vermont of a cannabis consumer who overdosed on fentanyl despite only consuming cannabis. WCAX-TV in Burlington, Vermont, published a six-sentence article on Nov. 21 stating that local law enforcement agencies were warning people about fentanyl-laced cannabis after that one alleged overdose.
On Dec. 3, WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, ran a story about Wayne State University's Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center issuing a public health warning regarding fentanyl-laced cannabis being found outside Michigan, even though there had been no confirmed samples of laced cannabis in Michigan.
In response to these reports, VTDigger, an independent news outlet in Vermont, ran a story on Dec. 5 headlined "Weed dealers don't put fentanyl in cannabis." That story referenced pieces from Buzzfeed, Snopes, Forbes and High Times that debunked the myth of fentanyl-laced cannabis. VTDigger's story, along with those it referenced dating back to 2017, contends that the idea of fentanyl-laced cannabis is essentially a law-enforcement scare tactic that is not supported by facts.
Law enforcement's relationship with fentanyl, and its use of the drug as a scare tactic, is long documented. In August, for example, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in California put out a video purportedly showing an officer overdose by simply being in the presence of fentanyl. It was widely debunked, and ultimately the department issued an apology.
Could fentanyl-laced cannabis be a real thing? Yes. Would it be incredibly dangerous? Absolutely. Is it fair to question the validity of these warnings considering law enforcement's history with fentanyl, and recreational drugs in general? Certainly.
The extent to which it is actually a problem, a real-world problem, is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Washington is home to a highly regulated legal cannabis market and that products bought from that market are tested and safe for consumers. If there is a risk out there, and there may not actually be one, it certainly does not exist within legal markets. ♦