Drug overdoses have devastated the United States, with fatal overdose deaths reaching record highs in 2021. The upsurge in fentanyl use – and, more specifically, the advent of fentanyl-laced drugs – has been the key contributor to this epidemic. Fentanyl is now being found in a terrifying amount of street drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and counterfeit pills. More recently, news headlines have stirred up fears around fentanyl-laced marijuana.
In Connecticut, for example, laced weed has emerged as a new public safety threat, with officials linking almost 40 opioid overdoses in the state to contaminated marijuana since June.
Still many are asking, are these reports true? Historically, fentanyl has been laced with more expensive drugs, such as prescription pills, as it enables drug dealers to cut back on costs while creating more dependency amongst their customers. However, many report that this logic does not make sense for marijuana. The overdoses reported also do not follow a pattern of a typical fentanyl surge.
So, the question remains, can marijuana be laced with fentanyl, and should parents be concerned?
Simply put, there should always be a concern about fentanyl-laced drugs. Fentanyl now accounts for the majority of opioid-related overdoses in the United States. It’s potency is dangerous, with two milligrams of fentanyl (which is equivalent to two grains of sand) being considered a lethal dose.
Anne Milgram, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), explains to CNN, “The amount of illegal fentanyl in our country has risen to an unprecedented level. This year alone, DEA has seen enough fentanyl to provide every member of the United States population with a lethal dose and we are still seizing more fentanyl each and every day.”
With this in mind, marijuana laced with fentanyl is not out of the question. Although it is not popping up in many places, authorities say we should not rule it out as a potential danger. Art Stone, a detective in the LAPD Gang and Narcotics Division, reveals, “I can’t say that we’ve seen a whole lot in the way of fentanyl in marijuana but, in today’s drug market, [we should] just assume that it can show up anywhere.”
Even if marijuana is not laced with fentanyl intentionally, there is still a risk of cross-contamination, too. Remember that the smallest dosage of fentanyl – approximately two grains of sand – can be fatal for users. If drug dealers are handling marijuana in the same place or with the same materials in which they handled fentanyl, there is a risk that the marijuana becomes contaminated. If someone uses that contaminated marijuana, there is a risk they will also consume small amounts of fentanyl.
Madeline Hilliard, CEO of Trojan Awareness Combatting Overdose (TACO), agrees that laced marijuana is a direct result of cross-contamination. She told USC Annenberg Media of this inherent risk: “Marijuana is being divided up for packaging and selling on the same table that fentanyl was previously being packaged on and the table, or the surface that all that was happening on, was not adequately sanitized.”
Why Should We Be Concerned About Laced Marijuana?
Marijuana is currently the most widely-used addictive drug in the United States, after tobacco and alcohol. It is most commonly used among adolescents and young adults. In 2021, over 30 percent of high school seniors and 17 percent of 10th graders had reported using marijuana in the last year. Many of these users are not old enough to go to a legal dispensary and purchase the weed themselves. So, we have to wonder, how are they obtaining marijuana?
Many teens are obtaining marijuana on the street, from illicit dealers, or from “friends” of friends that they have not directly met. In other words, they do not always know the source of the drugs they are using—and this is where there is a risk. Many people believe that marijuana is a very natural drug and that the risk of tampering is low. However, when purchasing marijuana illegally, you cannot truly know it’s level of purity.
Fortunately, today, there are fentanyl test strips available in efforts to prevent future overdoses. Users who are buying drugs illegally should have fentanyl test strips on hand, as well as Narcan (i.e. naloxone) in the case of an opioid overdose. Users should also remember that marijuana can be laced with other additives and drugs, so it is important to pay attention to what is being bought:
- Never purchase marijuana from illegal and unknown sources.
- Never purchase marijuana from someone who will not permit testing and inspection.
- Never purchase marijuana that smells or looks odd. This could be indicative of added chemicals.
- Thoroughly inspect marijuana before purchasing. Do not be afraid to throw it out if something appears off or suspect.
- If possible, have the substance tested before use.
Of course, prevention and treatment efforts should also be expanded to halt fentanyl overdoses at a broader scale. If you are a parent and concerned about your teen smoking marijuana, it’s important to have conversations with them about the potential dangers. It’s important to educate your teen on the risks of fentanyl, and the increasing dangers associated with purchasing drugs illegally. You both should also be aware of the signs of an opioid overdose, and how to react, in case of an emergency.
If your loved one is showing signs of a marijuana use disorder, it’s also important to talk to them about their treatment options. While marijuana is now legalized in many states, there is still an incredible risk for addiction. Today, an estimated 14.2 million people in the United States are struggling with a cannabis use disorder. This is particularly a risk for young people. Teens and young adults are at greater risk of substance addiction due to their stage of brain development. For them, early intervention and treatment is essential for their long-term health and sobriety.
Fentanyl is a real danger in our communities, and is becoming a greater risk for teens and young adults. If you or someone you love is struggling with a drug dependency and concerned about laced marijuana, know that there is help out there for you. Contact Turnbridge – an adolescent and young adult treatment center – for guidance on how to get started. We can be reached at 877-581-1793.