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Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid that is odorless and tasteless, making it difficult to detect. However, low-cost test strips can be used to check drugs for traces of fentanyl.
Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, to make them more powerful and more addictive.
There have been few reports of fentanyl-laced marijuana.
Fentanyl is a leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States. The synthetic opioid is deadly even in small doses and difficult to detect when mixed with other drugs.
Recent social media posts, however, claim to have found an easy way to detect whether drugs are laced with fentanyl.
"When fentanyl burns it smells like popcorn," an April 16 Facebook post claimed. "If your weed smells like popcorn, stop! It could save your life."
This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
There are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl, prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which is distributed through illegal drug markets. Both are considered synthetic opioids.
Fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In illegal drug markets, fentanyl is found in different forms, including powder, nasal sprays and pills made to look like prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Because of fentanyl’s extreme potency, it’s often mixed with other drugs to make them more powerful and more addictive. But adding fentanyl also makes drugs more dangerous. As few as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage, per the administration.
Every day, more than 150 people die from drug overdoses involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, the CDC reported.
It can be difficult to know whether a drug contains fentanyl, and whether it’s a deadly dose. Fentanyl is odorless and tasteless, and there are no visible indicators when it’s been added to another drug, according to the CDC. However, low-cost test strips can be used to determine whether a drug contains traces of fentanyl.
Dessa Bergen-Cico, public health professor and coordinator of Syracuse University’s addiction studies program, told PolitiFact there’s no evidence that burning or smoking fentanyl will make it smell like popcorn.
"Cannabis has a strong skunky odor and can have some varying scents with different strains, some with more citrus or dank scents, but it is generally pretty consistent in its odor," Bergen-Cico said. "So, it is unlikely fentanyl’s burning odor would alter that given fentanyl’s odorless properties."
The Facebook post warns about fentanyl-laced marijuana, but reported cases of fentanyl found in marijuana are rare, especially as more states legalize and regulate cannabis products. The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control told PolitiFact that these kinds of reports remain anecdotal. "There is not sufficient evidence to indicate that fentanyl is currently being mixed with marijuana or THC products," the CDC said.
Fentanyl is more commonly found on its own or mixed with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the DEA.
We rate the claim that fentanyl smells like popcorn when burned False.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit https://findtreatment.gov.
Facebook post, April 16, 2023
Email interview, Dessa Bergen-Cico, public health professor and coordinator of the Addiction Studies program at Syracuse University
Email interview, Belsie Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, April 28, 2023
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Fentanyl Facts," Feb. 23, 2022
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Fentanyl Test Strips: A Harm Reduction Strategy," Sept. 30, 2022
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, "Facts about Fentanyl," accessed April 27, 2023
National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Fentanyl DrugFacts," June 2021
American Addiction Centers, "Fentanyl Addiction, Side Effects & Rehab Treatment," April 20, 2023
American Addiction Centers, "What Do Different Drugs Smell Like? A Guide to Drugs by Smell," Sept. 13, 2022
MedicalNewsToday, "Fentanyl laced marijuana: Risks, dangers, and more," May 31, 2022
CNN, "More US states are regulating marijuana. See where it's legal across the country," April 27, 2023
USA Today, "Fact check: Can smell help prevent drug overdose? No, fentanyl only detectable with test strips," April 20, 2023
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