Summary: Connecticut legalized recreational marijuana in June 2021; by October, there were 39 reports of overdose. However, doctors now believe that fentanyl-laced marijuana caused these cases of acute toxicity. Although doctors could demonstrate fentanyl-laced marijuana in just one case, they know that fentanyl-laced drugs are pretty common. Moreover, the history of patients shows that 30 out of 39 had a history of opioid abuse. Thus, intentionally, or unintentionally, they were exposed to fentanyl. However, for legal reasons, they were hesitant to report the truth. Nevertheless, it is something that all users of legal marijuana must be aware of.
Marijuana is finally legal in many US states. People have been demanding to legalize marijuana for a long. There are many reasons for such a demand. After all, humans have used marijuana for ages, and despite some ill effects, it does not cause severe addiction or toxicity. Moreover, its health harms are well known to science. In short, it is a relatively safer substance of abuse and is of natural origin. But not only that as it also has some health benefits like pain reduction, managing gastrointestinal issues, and more.
Connecticut became the latest state to legalize marijuana in July 2021 finally. But then came the reports of severe intoxication with it. Within the three months of legalization, 39 reports of marijuana overdose were reported. However, the cases were not typical of marijuana overdose, and they benefited greatly from the naloxone dosage. Naloxone is mainly used to manage opioid overdose. This led experts to believe that people have misinformed doctors. Either intentionally or non-intentionally, they smoked fentanyl-laced marijuana. Moreover, testing of some samples confirmed the theory.
Recreational use of marijuana may be legal in some states. However, not everyone is going to use it for health conditions or responsibly. Many people addicted to street drugs and opioids are also likely to use marijuana. However, for many of them, marijuana fails to provide the kind of high they are looking for, and thus they might use marijuana laced with other drugs. In other cases, it may occur without users knowing about it. Some of the opioids are much cheaper to produce than growing marijuana. Thus, adding them to marijuana may help users achieve more substantial effects quickly.
Fentanyl-laced marijuana poses a significant health threat
One such opioid commonly mixed with various substances of abuse is fentanyl. It is a synthetic opioid. It is produced cheaply at the industrial scale and is readily available. Thus, it is often mixed with more expensive drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and more. This helps to produce addictive drugs cheaply. Unfortunately, however, many people unknowingly may use such drugs or fentanyl-laced marijuana.
However, here it is vital to understand that some addicted to opioids may do it intentionally. But, if they overdose on fentanyl, they are not likely to report it to avoid legal issues. Thus, they are more likely to inform only about marijuana use.
This kind of mixing is dangerous in many ways, as users are unaware of what they took. This also creates a problem for doctors treating drug overdose. Even if the users know that they have overdosed on fentanyl, they still avoid telling the truth. But doctors know that marijuana may cause acute toxicity but rarely causes severe issues like breathing problems or loss of consciousness, unlike fentanyl or other opioids
Although in the case of Connecticut cases, experts could find fentanyl-laced marijuana in just one of the samples. Still, they have a firm reason to believe that most, if not all, of the cases, were due to fentanyl overdose. This is apparent in the history of users, as 30 out of 39 were known to have opioid abuse history. Additionally, doctors can judge based on the symptoms. Further, naloxone, a drug used to treat opioid overdose, could help in most cases.
Although not everyone believes the case of fentanyl-laced marijuana, experts warn that it is more common than many people realize. Fentanyl-laced drugs are pretty common, so why could fentanyl-laced marijuana not be possible?
Doctors warn that marijuana users be careful and aware of this, as fentanyl-laced marijuana or drugs may cause much more severe health effects. It is the common cause of unintentional drug overdose and death.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA