From preventatives to treatments and cures, Western medicine has been hugely positive for humanity in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, it includes fentanyl, which is not proving to be a huge positive for humanity … or for cannabis freedom. Politically, medically, and recreationally, Big Pharma and fentanyl continue to negatively impact the push to fully legalize cannabis.

Fentanyl is a painkilling tool. It is not in and of itself a problem. Due to its strength, it’s an effective and very efficient opioid for intense pain. But Fentanyl isn’t meant for long-term use because of possible addiction. Its potency means it’s not comparable on the street to other opioids, while recreational users think it’s safer from addiction while being less expensive.  So people supplying drugs can make more money by cutting supplies with this cheaper, stronger opioid.  

Mixing or Contamination

Mixing drugs together isn’t new. No one at the street level expects “pure” anything. And mixing together potent, cheap opioids into less intense but more expensive drugs is smart for black market distributors. Not only opioids, but other powdered and synthesized drugs end up containing fentanyl through “improvement” or contamination while being processed.

What’s resulted is an epidemic of people doing drugs that are in reality much stronger than expected. So they do not take less of what is now more dangerous because they don’t know they need to. People are dying from unintentional fentanyl use.

Fentanyl and Cannabis

It makes sense then to be concerned that since fentanyl is in street drugs it’s being added to the biggest street drug of them all, cannabis. Cannabis is used to relax and chill. If it can be used in place of opioids or in conjunction with them for medical use, they’ll probably be combined for recreational use.

But fentanyl is higher-profit alone than it would be when mixed with cannabis. To add fentanyl but not raise the price of street weed would cut into the dealer’s profits. And like Big Pharma trading on the public market, profits are the point for dealers.

There may be value in making cannabis stronger with other drugs for the novelty, but such a thrill is charged for adequately. And people are then aware of what they’re taking, making them more cautious. There wouldn’t be a need to warn people that their cannabis might contain fentanyl, they’d want to know. That would be the point of buying.

Safer Than Sorry

But that argument doesn’t dismiss contamination, of course. Which is why law enforcement and politicians say they are “better safe than sorry” in reporting to press that they’ve found fentanyl in cannabis.

But they didn’t. They’ve found markers for fentanyl and cannabis in urine samples when people have claimed only to have consumed cannabis. That’s not enough information; self-reporting of drug use is extremely unreliable because people lie to avoid legal trouble. They are more likely to admit to lower-stigma drug use. Not to mention false positive tests.

At time of publishing, we could find no police force that has announced finding fentanyl in actual cannabis, and no deaths have been reliably reported from cannabis laced with fentanyl.

Contaminated Cannabis

One other consideration is how cannabis is consumed. If cannabis is contaminated with powdered fentanyl, to be a danger the fentanyl would have to burn in a way that someone could inhale. But while fentanyl can be unnoticed and injected with other injectable drugs, or unnoticed and snorted with other snortable drugs, it’s smokeable (vapourized) form is liquid using indirect heat not a powder with direct flame.

A pot pipe/bong/joint is just not meant to ignite opioids. And anyone who’s ever tried to smoke a substance that doesn’t want to smoke can tell you you don’t inhale it without effort. It’s also unlikely, even if it burned, that a person could inhale fentanyl in their pot without realizing they’d consumed something other than cannabis.

Warning or Fear-Mongering

Granted, with how dangerous fentanyl is if it burns correctly and is contaminating cannabis, just one inhalation could be deadly. Again, though, there have been no reliable reports of exposure, overdose, or death from fentanyl-laced cannabis. So either it hasn’t happened because it’s not contaminating cannabis, or can’t happen even when contaminating cannabis.

But politicians and police continue to leap on single unsubstantiated rumours as legitimate reports, warning cannabis users to stop using cannabis. These people cry “better safe than sorry” but are doing little to actually make people safe in a realistic way.

Instead, then-BC Premier Christy Clark passed along the cannabis rumour while insisting more regulation of cannabis is needed.

Legal Cannabis

But legal dispensaries affected by added regulation aren’t where the rumoured contaminated cannabis comes from. The latest murmurs passed along from well-meaning friends are “don’t buy on the street.” Over-regulating legal cannabis may convince people to go back to “their guy,” whose source also provides powdered drugs. Leading to more chance of that rumoured contamination, not less.

Cannabis availability lowers opioid use and aids in ending opioid addiction. In Vancouver, a city suffering from an epidemic of opioid overdoses but full of craft-grown cannabis dispensaries, there haven’t been any fentanyl-cannabis reports. Licensed Producers aren’t letting their cannabis near fentanyl. If cannabis from people that only sell cannabis is clean, why are cities still trying to make it hard to get?

Instead of warning people to “stop using cannabis” because of a possibly false chance of contamination — and instead of pretending that an opioid epidemic will end if people “buy from a person you trust, only use a little bit at first, never use alone” — it’s time to legalize cannabis faster. And while we’re at it, decriminalize all drug use.

“Better safe than sorry” warnings aren’t working. Fear-mongering isn’t working. People are dying. People that ignore effective harm reduction strategies while using the fentanyl epidemic to further their anti-cannabis views aren’t being safer, they’re just sorry.