Fentanyl-Laced Cannabis Demonstrates the Danger of Illicit Markets
December 16, 2021 08:00 am ET
Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Fentanyl-laced cannabis has been making headlines recently as a growing and life-threatening problem for cannabis users. The issue is not limited to any specific geographic area, but a concerning number of incidents have occurred in Connecticut in recent months, placing a spotlight on the state that’s working quickly to enact recreational cannabis sales and put its illicit market to rest.
Since July, Connecticut police and health authorities have witnessed 39 lab-confirmed cases of overdose from fentanyl-laced cannabis in which users had to be revived with naloxone. Although the users all claimed to only have smoked cannabis, they were found to be exhibiting effects of opioid use. In response to the issue, a police captain recently called on state lawmakers to expedite the opening of state recreational dispensaries “to protect the public.”
According to CBS News, overdose deaths in the U.S. have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and have climbed almost 30% in the last year. In addition to the societal impacts of the pandemic, experts blame this increase on the rising prevalence of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply. In Connecticut specifically, more than 80% of drug overdose deaths since 2019 have been due to fentanyl.
The Opioid Crisis Rages On
The world may be focused on COVID-19 at the moment, but the opioid crisis silently continues to ravage society. The addictive properties of these powerful, pain-relieving narcotics were overlooked through the late 1990s, leading to widespread prescriptions from doctors that ultimately turned into crippling addictions for many users. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
- More than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose, with two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 resulting from an opioid.
- Between 2016 and 2019, the U.S. issued more than $9 billion in grants in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic.
- In 2019, 10.1 million people ages 12 and older misused opioids. Of those people, 745,000 misused heroin, and an alarming 9.7 million misused prescription opioids.
Opioids are typically prescribed for the treatment of severe pain, particularly after surgery, and can be effective when taken sparingly. However, addiction can develop quickly and intensely. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is because opioids trigger the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that numb pain and increase pleasure. When opioids are taken long-term, users’ bodies will eventually slow their natural production of endorphins, forcing users to take in more opioids for the desired effects.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but its effects are thought to be 50 to 100 times more potent. Not only is fentanyl highly addictive due to its potency, but users can easily overdose when intaking it, leading to severe sickness or death. To make matters even worse, fentanyl is easily disguised when sprayed or sprinkled on other substances.
For illicit market dealers, a dash of fentanyl added to other substances is a cheap way to increase the overall high and have buyers coming back for more. But in many cases, this toxic practice actually ends in tragedy for unknowing consumers.
A Growing Need for Cannabis Regulation
Purchasing cannabis on the illicit market is extremely risky and dangerous for consumers, as there is no way to confirm the contents like there is with products from state-regulated dispensaries. Unfortunately, cannabis consumers in many parts of the U.S. have been forced to turn to illicit market dealers for their goods due to the illegality of cannabis and the lack of regulated spaces to obtain it safely.
In Connecticut, both medical and recreational cannabis have been legalized for residents. But while the state’s medical patients can easily access cannabis products via dispensaries and grow their own cannabis at home, recreational users are still dependent on the illicit market for their cannabis. This is because the state only recently legalized adult use and is currently in the process of establishing a system for sales and regulation. Recreational dispensaries are set to open in mid-to-late 2022.
The fentanyl problem is particularly frightening for users who turn to cannabis for its medicinal benefits. Cannabis holds the potential to mitigate symptoms of severe drug addiction, but people exposed to laced cannabis can be thrown right back into their addictions without warning.
While authorities are working to track down dealers who push corrupt cannabis products, the only long-term solution to this widespread problem is the implementation of regulatory systems and policies. After all, regulated cannabis is safe cannabis.
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