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White House Says Fentanyl Is Turning Up In Marijuana, Experts Say It's Fake News

By Maggie Ethridge 03/28/19

“This is part of a wider fentanyl panic that goes beyond having alternative facts [and] leads to bad decisions,” says one drug policy expert.

The White House's Kellyanne Conway says fentanyl is turning up in marijuana.
The White House's Kellyanne Conway says fentanyl is turning up in marijuana. Photo via YouTube

The White House and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) are leading Americans to believe that there is a real risk of marijuana users accidentally consuming fentanyl, say drug policy experts.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway used a news briefing last week to announce that illicit fentanyl is turning up in many drugs—including marijuana.

“People are unwittingly ingesting it,” Conway said. “It’s laced into heroin, marijuana, meth, cocaine, and it’s also just being distributed by itself.”

Drug policy and public health experts disagreed. “This is part of a wider fentanyl panic that goes beyond having alternative facts [and] leads to bad decisions,” Northeastern University drug policy expert Leo Beletsky told BuzzFeed News.

“It's crazy that this story is coming out from our leaders,” epidemiologist Dan Ciccarone of the University of California, San Francisco, told BuzzFeed News. “It shows that concerns about fentanyl have reached the level of moral panic. Fear outweighs rational evidence. There is scant evidence for cannabis laced with fentanyl.”

Jill Head, a senior chemist at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), stated at a National Drug Early Warning System briefing that no marijuana laced with fentanyl has been found.

What has been called "fentanyl hysteria" is based on the fact that fentanyl is deadly in small amounts, and when it is added to other drugs the user often does not know they are ingesting it, or how much.

As illicit fentanyl is mixed with other drugs in non-clinical settings, it is near impossible to evenly distribute. People using the same supply might get wildly different doses of the same drug.

Incorrect information on fentanyl and marijuana has come partly from police reports that show data from ultra-sensitive test strips that can detect fentanyl at concentrations as low as one-billionth of a gram. As BuzzFeed notes, it's not a stretch for trace amounts of fentanyl to be detected in marijuana handled by people who sell or use many kinds of illicit drugs. 

And synthetic cannabinoids (known as K2 or spice), which are chemicals sprayed onto plant matter, can be incorrectly reported as marijuana. This occurred in Connecticut where 71 people overdosed in one day. News outlets speculated that the synthetic marijuana was laced with fentanyl.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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