If you pay attention to the news, you might have heard police statements (like this one from a local news channel in South Carolina) warning consumers of fentanyl-laced weed. Stories like this might lead you to wonder whether there is a chance that your own cannabis products are contaminated with fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid.
The good news is that, so long as you’re purchasing your cannabis products from a reputable vendor, your chances of accidentally purchasing fentanyl-laced weed are extremely low. There is evidence to suggest that black market purchases come with limited risk as well.
In this post, we’ll explain exactly what fentanyl is before exploring some of the potential risks regarding cannabis and fentanyl. We’ll also cover how to test your own cannabis products for fentanyl and what to do if you accidentally consume fentanyl-laced weed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is a type of opioid that has been approved for a limited number of pharmaceutical use cases, such as treating severe pain.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than traditional opioids like morphine, and illegally-manufactured fentanyl has been linked to a sharp increase in opioid-related deaths over the course of the last decade.
The CDC also notes that fentanyl is sometimes mixed with cocaine or heroin to increase the euphoric effects of both substances. This practice isn’t new; according to Dr. Kavita Babu, chief of medical toxicology at UMass Chan Medical School, “drug dealers have used fentanyl analogs as an adulterant in illicit drug supplies since 1979, with fentanyl-related overdoses clustered in individual cities.”
Depending on where you are located, your state or local government will have laws in place regarding testing procedures that cannabis growers and producers must complete in order to sell their products through dispensaries.
While these tests don’t specifically look for fentanyl in cannabis products (their true focus is typically on pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants), the fact that they’re required means that cannabis companies must work with an interconnected system in which a paper trail would likely lead law enforcement — and potential customers who read the news — back to a company with laced products without much trouble.
In short, companies operating in states with legal cannabis are incentivized by the structure of the regulated market to produce and sell products free of fentanyl or any other contaminant.
The risk of purchasing fentanyl-laced cannabis from the black market is fairly low as well, according to a guide for EMS workers published by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services in 2022.
“These rumors began as early as 2017 when a county coroner in Ohio erroneously stated that he had seen evidence of marijuana laced with fentanyl,” the guide’s authors state. “It was later determined that his remarks were unsubstantiated and were based on third-hand hearsay. To-date, there are no scientifically verified reports [of] fentanyl contamination of cannabis products.”
Despite the statement made in the guide referenced above, there have been extremely rare situations in which a physician has attributed a medical condition to the consumption of fentanyl-laced cannabis.
For example, one case report among this limited group, published in 2023, tells of a 31-year-old male patient who was taken to a hospital after “being found unresponsive at his friend's house.” The patient “admitted to smoking only marijuana” and “adamantly denied any history of cocaine or opioid abuse.” Still, the patient presented with a rare case of alveolar hemorrhage, which involves bleeding in the lungs and is associated with opioid exposure.
The authors of the case report appear to draw their conclusion that this case was the result of fentanyl-laced cannabis due to the association of alveolar hemorrhages with fentanyl and the patient’s statement that he had only consumed cannabis. Still, due to stigmas and legal risks related to drugs like cocaine and heroin, the patient may have been sufficiently motivated to only admit to cannabis use despite having also consumed other substances.
Interestingly, a 2018 study examining drug consumers in Vancouver, Canada found that individuals who used opioids, stimulants, or other illicit drugs were significantly more likely to test positive for fentanyl than individuals who consumed cannabis.
“While some local political leaders and law enforcement officials warned that fentanyl is being added to illicit cannabis, the federal Minister of Health has recently confirmed with chiefs of law enforcement officials that there is zero evidence supporting such claim[s] and clearly stated that the concerns are unfounded,” the study’s authors state.
“Our findings are consistent with this conclusion. Further, our findings may also indicate that [people who use illicit drugs] using cannabis are less likely to use some fentanyl-contaminated drugs through substitution of psychoactive substances with cannabis.”
Fentanyl itself is available in liquid and powder forms and can look like many other drugs, according to the CDC.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that legal fentanyl, when given to patients by a doctor, typically comes in the form of a shot or cough drop-like lozenge. Illegal fentanyl is typically sold “as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.”
Fentanyl-laced cannabis can be difficult to spot (in part because it isn’t common at all), and some law enforcement officers have suggested that consumers should be more wary of fentanyl in synthetic cannabis products, which already pose their own dangers and should be avoided.
If you are concerned that your cannabis products are contaminated with fentanyl, you can use fentanyl test strips to determine whether you’re at risk of consuming a substance you’d rather avoid.
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, you can test drugs for fentanyl by soaking a portion of your product in water and using a test strip. Fentanyl is water soluble, so it should separate from your cannabis product and be detectable.
If you or someone you know has consumed fentanyl, whether in the form of fentanyl-laced cannabis or another substance, the CDC advises keeping an eye out for the following signs of a potential overdose:
If there is a possibility that the person has overdosed, the first step is to call 911, and the CDC notes that “most states have laws that may protect a person who is overdosing or the person who called for help from legal trouble.” If you have access to Naloxone, administer it to the person who is at risk of overdose. From that point on, your goal should be to keep the person conscious and breathing until help arrives.
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