The New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) published a two-page report entitled “Cannabis and Fentanyl: Facts and Unknowns” to demystify the facts and myths of the two substances, specifically that of fentanyl contaminating cannabis.
“The goal of this fact sheet is to provide evidence where it is available, to share information about what is currently known and unknown, and to provide safety tips to help alleviate some of these misconceptions, often spread through misinformed media coverage and anecdotal reporting,” the report stated.
The report includes multiple key findings. First, that misinformation connected to “cannabis ‘contaminated’ with fentanyl are widespread.” In response to this, and the reason the report was created in the first place, is to disprove and combat that misinformation, stating that “Anecdotal reports of fentanyl ‘contaminated’ cannabis continue to be found to be false, as of the date of this publication.”
The OCM also added that due to the stigma that opioid consumers experience in health care settings, they develop mistrust that leads to inaccurate self-reporting, as well as choosing not to admit opioid use. To take action and protect the public, the OCM found that promoting overdose prevention with “evidence-based interventions” also reduces stigma.
The OCM stated that there are not yet any reliable methods of testing fentanyl on cannabis flower. While fentanyl test strips are used frequently to test if fentanyl is on other substances, they are only designed for substances that are water soluble. Most commonly, those strips are used with powders or pills to detect fentanyl. While it hasn’t been found in cannabis, it can be found in substances such as “heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, and pressed pills.”
Described in a text block called “What We Know,” the OCM stated that to date, no one has died because of cannabis contaminated with fentanyl. “Warnings related to fentanyl ‘contamination’ in cannabis have increased as states continue to legalize cannabis,” the OCM wrote. “At this time, there have been zero verified incidents of fentanyl ‘contamination’ in cannabis. There is no guarantee that any unregulated cannabis product is free from contaminants or harmful ingredients.”
The OCM warns that there are many unknowns about the possibility of fentanyl “contaminated” cannabis. “Cannabis products made available in the unregulated market may contain unknown or undisclosed contaminants and have inaccurate labeling. Reliable testing protocols for the presence of fentanyl on cannabis flower remain unknown,” the OCM wrote.
However, the past has shown that cannabis has been found with unregulated substances in the past, such as K-2, otherwise known as spice, that is advertised as a cannabis product.
The agency concludes the report by recommending buying legal cannabis products to ensure that your product is tested in a lab and does not contain any harmful contaminants.
Rumors of fentanyl in cannabis have been perpetuated through law enforcement and also expanded into the arguments of legislators and political leaders.
In December 2021, a Vermont-based police department told the media about an incident with a patient who consumed cannabis that tested positive for fentanyl, claiming that they revived the individual with CPR and multiple doses of Narcan. However, they later released a statement walking back the claims about a positive fentanyl test. “The seized marijuana in both incidents was submitted to a forensic laboratory where testing was conducted,” said the department. “[Brattleboro Police Department] was notified no fentanyl was found in the marijuana in either case.”
High Times spoke with Peter Grinspoon, M.D., a medical cannabis specialist from Massachusetts General Hospital and also Harvard Medical School instructor, about the dangers of such claims. “It creates fear,” Dr. Grinspoon said in 2021. “Whenever there’s information about drugs—particularly cannabis—which is incredible, it makes it much harder for public health officials to get information that is credible out there. It’s like The Boy Who Cried Wolf—so it’s like the D.A.R.E. program. They said that cannabis does this, this, this and this, and teenagers didn’t believe it because it was against their lived experience. It sort of disqualified their other messages about drugs which are actually more dangerous—like heroin or alcohol. It just discredits the ‘official’ sources of information.”
However, that misinformation continues to be spread. In August 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attended Never Back Down Super PAC in Iowa, where he stated that he would not legalize cannabis if he was elected president. “Yeah, I would not legalize,” said DeSantis. “I think what’s happened is this stuff is very potent now. I think it’s a real, real problem and I think it’s a lot different than stuff that people were using 30 or 40 years ago. And I think when kids get on that, I think it causes a lot of problems. And then, of course, you know, they can throw fentanyl in any of this stuff now.”
In August, 517,500 fentanyl pills (about 115 pounds) disguised as “M30” oxycodone were seized by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office within the span of just one week. In 2021, San Bernardino County saw 354 people die because of fentanyl overdose.
A report from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that in 2021, more than 106,000 people died of overdose deaths, and 70,601 of those people died because of overdoses related to synthetic opioids other than methadone (which includes fentanyl). The 32,537 remaining deaths were attributed to stimulants such as cocaine and psychostimulants with potential for abuse, such as methamphetamine.
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