By Wesley Gallagher
Drug overdoses continue their alarmingly rapid rise in the US as the opioid crisis continues. The New York Post reports that the US, for the first time, surpassed 100,000 overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in April 2021. While historically, the epidemic has been fueled by natural opioid painkillers and heroin, the recent rise in deaths has been linked to the increased use of illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
You’ve probably heard of fentanyl-laced heroin or opioid pills, but it has recently shown up in other street drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstacy. There’s even reason to believe that fentanyl-laced marijuana is now circulating.
What is Fentanyl?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is approved for medical use as a painkiller, but it is also made illegally and sold as a street drug.
What makes fentanyl most dangerous is not merely its potency, but the fact that it is often disguised as less potent opioids or laced in them clandestinely. Because it is so much stronger than these other drugs, it often leads to overdose. In fact, as of 2017, 59% of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl.
Can Marijuana Be Laced with Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is most often combined with other opioids to create a more intense high, but recently fentanyl-laced weed has been showing up on the scene as well. According to NBC News, a 16-year-old high school student in Connecticut was hospitalized after an overdose from suspected fentanyl-laced pot.
The Connecticut State Department of Public Health issued a warning about the possible dangers of fentanyl-laced marijuana after several reports were received indicating opioid overdose symptoms in patients who claimed to only have smoked pot. In one instance, the marijuana was tested and found to have contained fentanyl.
In the case of fentanyl, an amount the size of a couple grains of sand can be enough to cause an overdose.
Whether it’s intentionally laced with fentanyl or simply cross-contaminated by dealers who also handle fentanyl, there’s always the possibility that marijuana procured illegally will contain such unknown and potentially dangerous substances. In the case of fentanyl, an amount the size of a couple grains of sand can be enough to cause an overdose.
Marijuana can also be laced with other substances, such as cocaine. In this case, it is often intentionally mixed with marijuana by users to create a more intense high or to lessen the stimulant effects of cocaine.
In reality, the two can be a dangerous combination, as their side effects can increase and harm the cardiovascular system when combined. Both weed and cocaine affect blood pressure and heart rate, so blending them puts the heart at greater risk.
Even riskier is the possibility that marijuana is laced with cocaine by dealers who don’t disclose this information when they sell it. This can lead to accidental overdose in users who don’t realize they are ingesting a stimulant like cocaine along with marijuana.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
With marijuana legalized in many states, its use is becoming more and more commonplace. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be dangerous, especially if it has been contaminated with other, more potent drugs. And if you’re buying marijuana illegally, there’s no way of knowing for sure how pure it is.
While marijuana is legalized in many parts of the US, it is still a mind-altering substance that can lead to abuse and addiction.
So, what can you do to protect yourself against potential contaminants if you are not willing to stop using marijuana?
- Purchase marijuana from a legal, reputable vendor
- Thoroughly inspect the drug before purchasing
- Test a small amount of the drug before consuming large amounts
- Don’t consume it alone
- Consider purchasing fentanyl test strips, which, according to Popular Science, can detect fentanyl within minutes by mixing a small amount of any drug with water
- Know the signs of overdose, and call 911 if you or anyone you are with begins experiencing symptoms
- Have Narcan (naloxone) on hand in case of overdose
While marijuana is legal in more than one-third of US states, it is important to remember that it is still a mind-altering substance that can lead to abuse and addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with abuse of marijuana or other substances, don’t hesitate to seek the help you need to get well. We at Claudia Black Young Adult Center offer individualized, whole-person treatment for a range of mental health and addiction issues. We would love to help you on your way to lasting recovery. Reach out today to learn more.