For many smokers of marijuana, the use of pesticides is a huge concern. Pesticides can be any number of harmful, toxic chemicals the industrial growers of plants use. Pesticides control the number of pests – bugs and insects, most often – that like to feed on the plants being grown. Unfortunately, pesticides aren’t very good for people to consume. They’re made and distributed to kill pests – why wouldn’t they hurt humans, as well? Marijuana smokers are wondering how much risk they take when smoking cannabis. Are There Pesticides, Herbicides and Chemicals in The Weed You’re Smoking?
This article answers the following questions:
- Are pesticides used often when growing marijuana?
- If they are, what sort of pesticides are in use?
- Are the pesticides harmful to human health when consumed?
- What can I do to reduce the damage from cannabis-related pesticides?
How Often Are Pesticides Used In Marijuana Cultivation?
Despite marijuana having the popular nickname of weed, this article’s not about herbicides. It’s about the insecticides that are sometimes used to keep crops of marijuana free from bugs.
For many years, people suspected without much evidence that crop growers were using pesticides on their marijuana. In recent years, many growers have been issuing recalls on lots of products across nations where marijuana is used medicinally.
Several provinces in Canada have issued massive recalls on marijuana products produced in the country. They were tainted with traces of a pesticide that has been banned in the country for some time.
Health Canada confirmed these recalls and confirmed that at least two of them had used the banned chemicals bifenazate and myclobutanil.
- Myclobutanil is a fungicide is allowed in small amounts on food crops. The digestive system can metabolize smaller amounts of the chemical without toxicity. It is not approved for use on any plants that are combusted, such as incense, tobacco or cannabis. Myclobutanil is known to release hydrogen cyanide when heated, which is much more toxic than the pesticide itself.
With marijuana growers being apprehended and pounds of product being recalled for the use of pesticides, it’s no secret that industrial marijuana growers use pesticides. A constant series of health and safety recalls throughout the United States has given medical users of cannabis reason to be wary of what product they use.
It’s possible that pesticide use is increasing throughout the United States and Canada. There are a number of potential reasons for that.
- The structure of the cannabis industry in a few states has spurred a lot of inexperienced growers into the industry. With a huge pressure to increase the supply of marijuana, growers were struggling to meet quotas and may have started using more pesticides.
- Washington’s Liquor & Cannabis board was more concerned about the final product than the process of developing it. They did strict testing for residual molds, fungi and bugs – but didn’t test for residual pesticides. There’s no assistance from federal organizations who would have better testing methods, since cannabis is still federally illegal.
- Some pesticide manufactures undersell the dangers of their products. Farmers who are naive or just work in good faith might purchase these products after being told they’re perfectly healthy.
What Sort Of Pesticides, Herbicides and Fungicides Are Used In Marijuana?
The Cannabist has compiled a list of the five most commonly used illegal pesticides in the marijuana industry.
- Myclobutanil was described earlier.
- Imidacloprid is an insecticide. The World Health Organization considers it ‘moderately hazardous,’ and it’s somewhat toxic when ingested or inhaled.
- Abamectin and other chemicals in the avermectin family are insecticides. Avid, the brand which distributes abamectin, says it’s harmful when inhaled.
- Etoxazole is another insecticide. Its main use for ornamental and landscape plants, not on products consumed by people.
- Spiromesifen is an insecticide. It’s branded by Oberon, Judo and Forbid.
Traces of these pesticides were what caused the massive amount of recalls across Canada and the United States. This article links to some of the pesticides uncovered in Washington State’s observation of pesticides used in marijuana. The Colorado Pesticide Applicator Act indicates which pesticides are supposed to be used and prohibits the use of pesticides aside from their labelled usage.
Are The Chemicals Used In Marijuana Cultivation Harmful?
Yep! There’s been quite a bit of research done in this regard. Jeff Raber, founder of a cannabis analysis lab known as the Werc Shop, has been testing marijuana and publishing his results in scientific journals.
A joint study Raber did with Nicholas Sullivan studied pesticide residue in the smoke from marijuana. They intentionally used pesticides on their marijuana, and then combusted it. They tested the amount of pesticide residue that made it through the smoking device. It turns out that people smoking with glass pipes inhaled up to 65 percent of the pesticides. Bong users take in about half. All these pesticides are directly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream.
This is quite a high percentage. Nobody wants to inhale toxic chemicals, so inhaling cannabis smoke that’s been treated with toxic chemicals is a dangerous practice.
This is particularly dangerous for medical cannabis users. People who are using the plant to treat a serious illness are compromising their immune system even more by inhaling toxic chemicals. These can exacerbate the currently existing conditions and make the health of the user much worse.
Weed Concentrates Contain More Pesticide Residue
Consuming cannabis concentrates – oil, shatter, etc. – have been studied to have much higher amounts of pesticides in them. Since the inactive components in the weed – plant matter and cannabinoids that aren’t active – are being reduced, the concentration of active cannabinoids are higher.
Since there isn’t a regulated procedure for eliminating toxic residue from cannabis products, the amount of pesticides in these products is much higher. Extraction devices that are continually contaminated with toxic products – even those that are just cleaned with toxic chemicals – can cross-contaminate the marijuana.
How Dangerous Are These Compounds?
It’s hard to say. You can’t really specify, with the data we have, exactly how much of which pesticides will do what kind of damage. There are different types of toxicity to attend to, which makes studying the damage a long-term process.
- Acute toxicity occurs quickly after the chemical is ingested. It can leave scars on tissues or otherwise injure your internal organs.
- Long-term toxicity may not seem like a problem at first, but with repeated ingestion of toxic chemicals, your body can begin to degenerate. Long-term toxicity is hard to study at first because oftentimes, the effects don’t appear for years after the chemicals have been ingested. Cigarette smoke is a good example of long-term toxicity that wasn’t made apparent to the public for years after cigarettes became popular.
There is also discrepancies among different government regulation agencies. The FDA doesn’t approve paclobutrazol for use on food, but the European Union has approved it for specific foods.
Since the dangers aren’t fully understood, King County’s Public Health Department in Seattle issued an advisory. They say that since science hasn’t been able to fully explain the damage pesticides do to our bodies, users must be aware of the potential risk from inhaling or ingesting such compounds.
Study hasn’t begun on a federal level because the plant is still considered federally illegal. This, coupled with cannabis growers who don’t want to start regulating their growing techniques, has slowed the process of pesticide study.
How Can I Reduce The Risk Of Inhaling Pesticides From Cannabis?
There’s a couple ways you can reduce the risk of inhaling pesticides.
- You can ask your local dispensary if they have any products that are specifically tested for pesticides. Get details – find out where the testing was done, what was tested for, etc. You may have to pay more for these products because organic farming methods cost a bit more money. However, the more people demand organic products, the more will begin appearing on shelves.
- You can buy homegrown weed. If you want to avoid the often illicit transaction, unless you find a dispensary that supplies homegrown marijuana. Homegrown marijuana is often grown by locals on a smaller scale. It’s not as strong, typically, as industrially grown weed, but it’s also likely to be less coated with pesticides.
- You can raise awareness about cannabis pesticide usage. Starting a page on Facebook or a local gathering to oppose pesticides can have long-lasting effects.