If you live in a state with a legal cannabis industry, the product testing that comes along with legalization has granted you higher standards of health protection when shopping for edibles, tinctures, vaporizers and more. Just as it is with shopping for body care or groceries, the safety and quality of your purchase is critical.
An agricultural product with a long history of deregulation, cannabis can carry health risks that often aren’t on the collective consumer’s radar. Even worse, medical cannabis patients often have compromised immune systems, making the unintentional consumption of mold, bacteria and chemicals a greater health risk for them.
Fertilizers in soil, pesticides sprayed on plants, fungal diseases common to wet climates and the spread of mold spores are all common occurrences throughout the cultivation cycle. Worst among these culprits is mold, which spreads easily and can crop up after the customer has brought home their product. Proper storage is the best prevention, but knowing how to avoid purchasing moldy marijuana is equally important.
At Leaf Detective, a licensed cannabis testing facility in Humboldt County, CA, Michele Malaret is an expert on the various types of mold and bacteria that can degrade cannabis flower and our health.
Michele says that most molds and bacteria aren’t visible to the naked eye, but that it’s possible to detect things like grey mold, often called “bud rot,” or powdery mildew, which leaves buds appearing as though they were rolled in sugar. Sometimes moldy cannabis also gives off a musty smell that can tip you off that the plant isn’t quite right.
Many cannabis farmers walk their crop rows with an important tool in their pocket called a jeweler’s loupe. A powerful magnifying glass, cultivators use the tool to zoom in on spider mites (bad) and trichomes (good) in various stages of growth. Bringing your own jeweler’s loupe while shopping at the dispensary is a great idea for any medical cannabis patient, those with sensitive immune systems or anyone wanting to reduce exposure to toxic mold and bacteria.
Don’t worry about offending your cannabis consultant by inspecting the wares under glass—a reputable outfit should want to earn their customer’s confidence. And many dispensaries will have magnifying glasses next to various strain samples—don’t be shy about using them. Michele recommends looking for discoloration as the primary indicator of mold and talking to your dispensary about any concerns.
If moldy cannabis has been smoked, vaped or consumed, mold spores can thrive in the warm cavities of the body, leading to a build-up of mycotoxins, the harmful compounds that trigger inflammation in the body. There’s no way to measure the exact health risk involved—it differs for each individual. Some people have a specifically adverse reaction to moldy cannabis, such as chest pain or nose bleeds. If symptoms are severe, seek medical attention immediately.
In California, the Department of Food and Agriculture now requires licensed labs, like Leaf Detective, to test for salmonella, E. coli and four kinds of a fungus called Aspergillus.
A large genus of mold, Aspergillus is common to indoor and outdoor environments and is naturally found in soil. Most of us breathe in hundreds of mold spores per day without any consequences, but those with compromised immune systems (folks with cancer, asthma, cystic fibrosis, low white blood cell count) are at risk of developing aspergillosis, an opportunistic fungal infection of the lungs. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, fever, chest pain and coughing up blood. Without medical attention and anti-fungal drugs, the infection could spread to vital organs.
Anyone experiencing symptoms related to aspergillosis should seek immediate medical attention. While there’s no record of a single incidence of moldy cannabis consumption resulting in a life-threatening infection, those with sensitive immune systems should avoid exposure whenever possible.
If you’re a cannabis consumer in a state with a legal cannabis market, you’re in a much better position to buy clean, uncontaminated cannabis due to required quality control testing regulated by state law. But always keep your eye out and don’t be afraid to inspect flower with a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe. Be aware that smoking cannabis does nothing to kill mold spores, and unfortunately, there’s no antidote for consuming contaminated cannabis—just be sure it’s an isolated incident. Ask your dispensary if anything looks or smells off.
As legalization slowly sweeps the nation, there’s no reason to expect anything less than safe, clean cannabis from a permitted cultivation site.
Photo credit: Thought Catalogue