Word on the street is fentanyl-laced cannabis, which is currently affecting non-regulated cannabis products in black markets, is contributing to the opioid crisis in the US. Earlier this month, reports of individuals overdosing from cannabis peppered with fentanyl surfaced from Ohio.
The possibility of such events is not far-fetched and have been entertained by local residents in the area. According to Special Agent in Charge Michael Ferguson of the Drug Enforcement Administration, it only takes two milligrams of the drug to kill a person. A tiny sprinkle on a plant is very difficult to detect.
The highly addictive opioid is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and roughly 100 times more potent than morphine.
Reports of the deadly mixture originated from Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, during a press conference with Senator Rob Portman. Sammarco provided questionable data to back up her statement, citing that 297 locals died due to suspected opioid overdoses in the first two quarters of the year. In 2016, that figure was at 403.
“Drug traffickers are lacing other drugs with it. I was told by the DART Task Force in Toledo that they’re actually sprinkling fentanyl in marijuana now, and people are showing up in the emergency room and overdosing on marijuana because it’s sprinkled with fentanyl,” said Portman.
However, Sammarco failed to clarify exactly how many of those deaths were related to fentanyl-laced cannabis. Instead, she advised people that the possibility of encountering potentially deadly forms of the plant (with fatal doses of the opioid) is highly likely.
“Essentially, the message we’ve tried to get out there, is if you are using any form of street drugs, count on them having some form of synthetic opioid mixed in,” said Sammarco.
In order to pacify concerned individuals, which now includes thousands of people across the country, Andrea Hatton, an administrator with the Hamilton County Coroner’s office, verified such reports were non-existent.
“We in Cincinnati have not, in fact, seen fentanyl-laced marijuana,” said Hatton. “There are no reported cases of it.”
Hatton explained that blood screening is common practice during autopsies. The presence of multiple substances in individuals who overdosed on fentanyl may have caused some people to arrive at the conclusion that the opioid is being mixed with cannabis. The administrator emphasized that this does not necessarily mean the substances were consumed together.
US Drug Enforcement Administration representative Melvin Patterson also spoke out about the issue during a timely interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, citing that the organization has not seen cannabis mixed with fentanyl. Patterson said “there could be” such cases. But without legitimate reports, it would be irresponsible to jump to any conclusions that could indirectly affect the reputation of the legal cannabis industry.
From a legalization standpoint, the possibility of fentanyl-laced cannabis is another reason to double down on regulating cannabis, in states that don’t have legal cannabis laws in place. With increased quality control and the implementation of strict cultivation practices, law enforcement would be able to easily track batches of illegally mixed or tampered cannabis.