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The public’s perception of marijuana has changed wildly since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970. Though the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I substance, 26 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for either medicinal or recreational use. This legislation has led to an increase of legal pot farming and an increase in pesticide use on the plants.
In 2013, a study in the Journal of Toxicology analyzed the potency of pesticides in legal marijuana at a medicinal dispensary in California. Their findings brought to light a potential health concern for many people; many of the chemicals present on cannabis buds directly transferred into marijuana smoke. In fact, the study concluded that the high levels of pesticide residue present significant health complications for cannabis smokers.
Individuals smoking through a handheld glass pipe could expect to inhale 60-69 percent of the chemical residue; those using an unfiltered water piper were exposed to 42-59 percent; and those using a filtered water pipe still inhaled 0.08-10 percent. Given these results, researchers concluded that the chances of pesticide exposure through pot smoke was alarmingly high.
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Which chemicals are marijuana growers using on their plants? According to a report from NBC News, one common chemical is a fungicide called myclobutanil. This is a common pesticide, most often used to keep fungi from growing on grapes.
While it has a relatively low toxicity level, farmers working with myclobutanil have reported the following side effects:
For some, the presence of myclobutanil is not a deterrent. After all, the fungicide is used on a wide range of crops we consume every day, and these side effects seem relatively tame. But when myclobutanil is heated up, it changes into hydrogen cyanide – the poisonous chemical notorious for its use in Nazi gas chambers and the Jonestown commune.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons state that inhalation of hydrogen cyanide is incredibly dangerous. The chemical is lethal at a high concentration, and even smaller amounts can cause side effects like:
As marijuana legislation changes, it’s likely that states will implement tighter restrictions on growers and dispensaries to change their pesticide use or clearly label their product; according to the NBC report, most shops that claimed to be pesticide-free tested positive for myclobutanil. For example, Colorado reported in the January 2016 issue of the American Journal of Public Health that the state needed to create a “robust regulatory and public health framework.”
In the meantime, marijuana smokers need to take extra precautions before smoking pot. One option for individuals looking to avoid pesticide exposure is to seek treatment for marijuana use. This can be particularly effective if you suffer from marijuana use disorder, otherwise known as marijuana addiction.
But if you are planning to smoke, it’s best to take some safety measures. Look at the pot under a magnifying glass; if you see white crystalline powder, it’s probably pesticide residue. Feel the plant for a chalky texture. A harsh and unpleasant taste in the smoke is also a sign that there may be residue left on the weed.