THC gummy candies sold in three smoke shops in Montgomery County tested positive for illicit heroin and fentanyl, a powerful and dangerous synthetic opioid, law enforcement officials said Friday.
Authorities warned of the risk of opioids in gummies from the brands Strictly Delta, Urb Extrax, and Packwoods Coned that are sold in Tobacco Hut locations in Hatfield, Montgomeryville, and Blue Bell. The investigation was prompted by two nonfatal opioid overdoses over the past month in which the victims told law enforcement they consumed only gummies sold from a Tobacco Hut that they believed contained Delta-8 THC or CBD, authorities said.
The investigation into the stores is ongoing, but Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said he wanted to let people know to take precautions.
“If you have bought any of these items from any of these stores please do not eat them,” Steele said.
Delta 8 THC is a type of THC, the primary ingredient in cannabis that gets people high, that is considered milder. It is has been legal since the federal government legalized hemp in 2018. Despite its legality and popularity, it remains largely unregulated.
On Feb. 17, Montgomery County detectives purchased a variety of gummies at Tobacco Hut’s Blue Bell location. A few days later, the Pennsylvania Army National Guard tested the gummies for narcotics. They found some Strictly Delta gummies that tested positive for fentanyl, and others tested positive for heroin, fentanyl, and methyl fentanyl, according to the affidavit of probable cause accompanying a search warrant.
Testing also found the synthetic cannabinoid K2, also known as spice, in other samples of Strictly Delta.
Searches of two other Montgomery County locations of the Virginia-based chain revealed more products with illicit substances in them, authorities said.
“We have found fentanyl through at least three different types of items that were being sold at these Tobacco Huts stores,” Steele said.
The investigation into the source of the illicit drugs in the gummies continues. No arrest has been made.
“We’re victims, we were the middleman, we bought our product from a legit source and we just sold it,” said Ibraham Alhumaidi, the Virginia-based operations manager who oversees the three Tobacco Huts that were searched. “We didn’t manufacture any of these products.”
These gummies are a small part of the stores’ inventory, Alhumaidi said. He said the store would have taken it off the shelves had it been informed. Instead, he says the store lost a large amount of stock to the search.
Strictly Delta could not be reached for comment.
This is the first time fentanyl or other opioids were found in cannabis products in Montgomery County, the DA’s office said.
The products sold at tobacco and vape shops are relatively unregulated, Steele said.
Ryan McNeil, the director of harm reduction research at the Yale University program in addiction medicine, said he hadn’t heard of other incidents of gummies having opioids detected in them.
“It’s really unusual,” he said.
But the lack of a legal retail market for marijuana products with proper regulations creates conditions for illicit products, McNeil said.
Fentanyl has been making its way into drugs in the illicit market for a long time, said Sheila Vakharia, the deputy director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, a national nonprofit that advocates against punitive drug policy.
In Philadelphia, the potent synthetic opioid all but overtook Philadelphia’s heroin supply in recent years, and there have been reports of fentanyl in stimulants such as meth and cocaine.
For Vakharia, it is not surprising then that a similar process is occurring in the unregulated market of cannabis-adjacent products. It highlights the need for overdose prevention awareness.
“We continue to need public education around identifying the signs of overdose and how to respond,” she said.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to vote in March on making the opioid-reversing drug Narcan available over-the-counter, and Vakharia hopes that it will increase access to the life-saving medication.
In addition to carrying Narcan, Vakharia said there are steps that people can take to consume substances more safely.
“Going slow, not using alone, not mixing drugs knowingly,” she said “Those are very common harm-reduction practices.”
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