One of the hottest pieces of propaganda to come spilling from jowls of law enforcement over the past few years is that illicit-market marijuana is being laced with a dangerous and destructive opioid called fentanyl.
The idea that drug dealers are intentionally adding this potent drug to pot so hapless children who get their hands on it suffer savage, sometimes fatal overdoses has become a new reefer madness. Even the White House continues to perpetuate the myth with ignorance. Just weeks ago, Trump’s opioid crisis czar Kellyanne Conway told reporters that fentanyl was showing up in “heroin, marijuana, meth [and] cocaine.” Conway resurrected this claim, apparently, because she is still using misinformation given to her by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The marijuana-fentanyl connection has been proven false, at least on a large scale. Even the DEA called it bogus — more on that later. But new twists on the subject are still popping up from time to time that only stand to confuse the public further.
What the Nose Doesn’t Know
One of our favorites comes from a recent Facebook post, in which someone suggests that fentanyl smells like popcorn when it burns. So, of course, they warn that if a person smokes marijuana and catches a whiff of American’s favorite movie-time snack, that’s a good indication they could be in serious trouble.
But all of this popcorn nonsense is absolutely false, according to fact-checking website Truth or Fiction.
“Nearly all information about fentanyl’s scent indicated it was odorless or faintly powder-scented, not that it smells ‘like popcorn,’” wrote author Kim LaCapria. “The inherent risk in such information being spread as ‘better safe than sorry’ [is] lulling recreational drug users into a dangerously false sense of security with respect to detecting contamination from drugs such as fentanyl.”
Back to Reality
What is true is that fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, designed as a post-surgical painkiller. Yet, for obvious reasons, it has found illicit market appeal. Those who enjoy the feel-good effects that come from popping OxyContin or shooting heroin are the primary customer base. It’s also a drug that cartel operations have found much success with, because it is easier to produce than heroin — all of the supplies needed to manufacture it can be purchased relatively easily from online suppliers in China.
It’s also true that fentanyl is now being found in other drugs — though some of those instances might be exaggerated too. This is happening, according to a report from NPR, either as a result of accidental contamination or intentionally, in order to get users hooked on other products. There is also a distinct possibility that fentanyl is being combined with other drugs in the pursuit of new highs.
While it is not beyond the scope of imagination to suggest that people are adding fentanyl or other opioids to marijuana as part of their personal preference — cannabis has been soaked in embalming fluid, mixed with PCP, cocaine, and more over the years — there is little benefit for the illicit drug industry to engage in this practice. These operations certainly aren’t going to put fentanyl-laced marijuana into the market without charging some kind of premium.
But all of this talk is entirely hypothetical.
As we mentioned before, even the DEA says there hasn’t actually been any marijuana found with traces of fentanyl in it. “In regard to marijuana, I’m not familiar with that,” DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson told the Cincinnati Inquirer.
These comments echo DEA senior chemist Jill Head’s remarks from earlier this year. According to Buzzfeed News, Head made a salient point in a National Drug Early Warning System briefing in March: If fentanyl-laced marijuana was actually a trend across the nation, the death toll would be of an apocalyptic nature. After all, marijuana is the most commonly used substance – some 33 million people in both the legal and illicit markets consume it regularly. We’d definitely be seeing more bodies.
So if fentanyl-laced pot isn’t actually a thing, how did the rumors get started? Well, when it comes to the “misinformation” that continues to be spread by the White House – using the data collected by NIDA — all of it is based on anecdotal evidence from local police departments. But all of those reports were eventually proven to be false. Even the fact-checking site Snopes found no evidence to suggest that this drug combination is not a legitimate concern.
In the end, we cannot trust the police to deliver accurate reports over the kinds of drugs they are seeing out in the field.
“There’s this mistaken belief that law enforcement are experts on the drugs they are seizing,” Northeastern University drug policy expert Leo Beletsky told BuzzFeed News. “That’s just not the case, and that’s part of the problem.”
TELL US, what’s the weirdest rumor you’re heard about cannabis sold on the illicit market?