A Marijuana Myth Had a Whole Town Worried They'd Get Stoned

July 25th 2016

Aimee Kuvadia

Residents of the small Colorado town of Hugo can drink easy; after a brief scare over THC-contaminated H2O, it turns out the supply isn't going to get them stoned, The Washington Post reports.

Authorities from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office reported to the 800-resident city last week that its water supply was found to be laced with THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. The initial report followed a local company running tests on its own water and finding a THC-positive sample. The company reported it to the sheriff's office, who, in turn, also ran tests on water samples that produced positive THC results, according to Denver 7 ABC.

Here's the warning that the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office sent out to residents. 



But on Saturday, the sheriff's office was forced to retract the warning: The H20 contained no THC, and the scientists from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation concluded the test results were false positives, according to The Washington Post. However, a separate investigation into whether the well was tampered with is still ongoing. 

The false alarm shows that common perceptions about marijuana still conflict with scientific understanding. 

Lincoln County authorities alarmed Hugo residents by advising them to steer clear of water in most situations — bathing in it, cooking with it, and drinking it. In doing so, they disregarded one of marijuana's most fundamental attributes: it's fat-soluble.

“The one thing that bothers me about this story from a scientific perspective is that THC is so insoluble in water,” Joseph Evans, a former EPA scientist who now directs the Denver-based marijuana testing lab Nordic Analytical, told The Denver Post. “I can’t imagine, I can’t even fathom the idea that THC would be in water at any type of solubility to create any kind of health hazard.”

As The Washington Post points out, efforts to liquefy marijuana often produce disappointing results.

"As British and American scientists wrote in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 2006, even when THC is liquefied with a detergent, it is likely to precipitate — that is, undo all the hard work of dissolving and form clumps — if care is not exercised.”

ATTN: reached out to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, to discuss the implications of what transpired in Hugo. "The minute I saw the headline," he said, "I knew there would be a retraction. The claim was absurd."

Although Armentano isn't 100 percent certain what tests were used to examine the water samples in Lincoln County — and neither the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office nor Colorado Bureau of Investigation had returned ATTN:'s calls as of deadline — he assumes officials used a standard field test to determine there was THC in the tap water. 

"My understanding is that that test is not particularly reliable," he said.

Armentano jointly holds the media and law enforcement responsible for the mishap. With the media, "Virtually every news story you see about marijuana is reported as if it's in a bubble."

He added:

"Something like this isn't surprising to me at all. You have a cursory understanding of marijuana, which most reporters do. ... It doesn't surprise me law enforcement is naïve about the science of marijuana, either."