When you go to a cannabis dispensary in a legal state like Colorado, you get to consult a professional budtender who can tell you everything that's in your strain - from its THC and CBD content to the pesticides used during cultivation. But when you buy off the street, you have no idea what's in your weed. You're at the mercy of the dealer, who may have spiked the strain with harmful chemicals - or even the potent and potentially lethal opioid fentanyl.
That's the case in Ohio, where Cincinnati coroner Lakshmi Sammarco recently announced that her team has discovered an array of street drugs laced with fentanyl.
“We have seen fentanyl mixed with cocaine, we have also seen fentanyl mixed with marijuana,” Sammarco said during a press conference.
The mix is turning cannabis - which has never caused a lethal overdose on its own - into a potential killer. The contaminated strains may have played a role in the 297 opioid-related deaths that Sammarco has seen this year, which is on track to break last year's total of 403 fatal opioid overdoses.
And the scariest part is that you can't tell which strains have been contaminated until you screen them in a lab - or test the victims during an autopsy.
“We can’t tell you for sure until we test the blood of someone who has died or any of the drugs seized by law enforcement,” Sammarco added.
So she has to fall back on the old 'just say no' adage. “Just don’t use it. That’s all we can tell you, and we can’t say it enough.”
But the 'just say no' mantra has proven ineffective at preventing Americans from consuming banned substances. So instead of saying no to marijuana, Ohioans should consider saying yes to cannabis legalization, which would help the Buckeye State keep fentanyl out of cannabis.
States like Colorado have created a legalization framework that tracks cannabis cultivation from seed to sale. Their regulations include setting up professional labs to test batches of professionally grown cannabis before it reaches retail shelves. The screening process protects consumers from buying anything contaminated with mold, illegal pesticides or other hazardous substances. And testers can randomly ask retailers to re-submit strains to make sure they haven't been tampered with since going on sale.
Those measures could save lives in places like Ohio, which is one of the states that has been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic ravaging the country. Regulations would help keep fentanyl out of marijuana while also expanding access to a potential cure for opioid addiction. Current research suggests that cannabis could wean people off of opioid addiction. But that won't happen in states where lawmakers confine recreational marijuana to the black market, where unscrupulous drug traffickers are free to turn a potential medicine into poison.