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Beware moldy cannabis that poses a health risk

Some of the more-serious symptoms of moldy cannabis are chest pains and allergic reactions close to the time of consumption.

Let’s talk moldy cannabis. Did you know that according to the physician’s researchers at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, 90 percent of the 20 medical cannabis samples purchased from dispensaries throughout the state tested positive for bacteria and fungi. The reason for the study was because a man being treated at a medical center for what was believed to be curable cancer suddenly contracted a rare fungal disease and died. The certainty which physicians believed is that the disease was caused by contaminated cannabis, and the findings were so certain.

Individuals that are immunocompromised are susceptible to serious illness if ingesting fungus ridden moldy cannabis. The healthy individuals can experience symptoms such as asthma, coughing, vomiting and nausea.

Because the public attention shifted to the race for recreational cannabis licensing, and away from the few businesses found to be selling contaminated cannabis to medical patients, bringing awareness to this issue seems to be difficult at best.

Now that this same cannabis is being consumed by a much larger population in the wake of recreational sale, it’s important to bring this closeted public health hazard back to the forefront for those who weren’t privy to the early controversies of medical cannabis’ arrival in the commonwealth. The lack of oversight by governing agencies has left the responsibility of reporting contaminated marijuana in the hands of those familiar with the nuances of cannabis.

Widespread cannabis contamination was rarely an issue before the advent of mega-grow facilities, housing tens of thousands of plants, packed on top of each other in humid flowering rooms. Any personal grower can attest to the difficulty of containing mold and mildew on just six or seven plants, so imagine attempting to contain and control 20,000 infested plants.

The increase of the mold-ridden cannabis in commercial grow facilities could potentially be attributed to factors including stressful conditions for the plants — such as high heat, humidity, lack of airflow and most commonly, a non-hygienic environment. Maintaining a sterile grow space is sustainable in one’s own personal garden, but with some of the larger facilities housing hundreds of employees going in and out of the building all day, it’s impossible to ensure each one has disinfected themselves by changing clothes, washing their hands and passing through an air shower.

Hundreds of different mold strains could potentially find their way into cannabis, but the most common is powdery mildew or PM — every cultivator’s nightmare. The powdery mildew can occur and destroy and entire crop. It often occurs later in the flowering stage, making it impossible to completely kill. This can result in the loss of exorbitant amounts of money for large commercial grow facilities.

So, by this point you’re probably wondering how you can avoid consuming moldy cannabis.

Although it’s impossible to know if your bud is 100 percent clean without having it tested independently, there are some precautions which can be taken as a first defense. Invest in a 10X magnifying glass — look at the buds closely for white powdery spots. A black light will also illuminate many mold strains. Moldy cannabis will smell musty and taste like hay, with none of the familiar taste of quality product. If the cannabis has been treated using a hydrogen peroxide bath, you will feel numbness in your mouth and will most likely get a headache after smoking. Some of the more-serious symptoms of moldy cannabis are chest pains and allergic reactions close to the time of consumption.

The best way to combat the commercial sale of contaminated cannabis is to know the signs, read testimonials online, be mindful of your health prior to ingesting cannabis purchased from unfamiliar sources — and always speak up if you’re feeling off prior to ingesting cannabis, regardless of whether it is smoked or ingested in edible form. Do remain vigilant because grow facilities won’t be eager to report contaminated batches. You the consumer must know the tell-tale signs of all products.


Kathleen George, Ph.D., LADC 1 is a substance abuse therapist of


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