The marijuana industry’s potential public health crisis

March 8, 2018


42 million Americans regularly consume marijuana. How many of those consumers know what pesticides are being sprayed on their bud, or the potential health problems they may encounter from smoking pesticide-ridden weed?


Earlier this week, Rolling Stone published an intimate look into the difficulties of creating a clean marijuana industry. Amanda Chicago Lewis takes us behind the legalization effort in California to shine a light on the pesticide issue, and why consumers should be concerned.


Oregon has the strictest pesticide regulations than any state. From a consumer stand point, that’s the safest place to buy product. From an industry standpoint, that’s the hardest place to grow.

When the standards were put in place, “hardly anyone was able to meet them. Within weeks, dispensary shelves in Portland were nearly empty,” Lewis reports.


Lewis notes that developing rules for pesticides has been one of the most difficult tasks for legislators. With legalization in many states, cannabis is grown at a larger scale than ever before, but without EPA guidance, state governments can only guess what pesticides to ban.


“Unfortunately, pretty much all of the marijuana in the United States is drenched in harmful chemicals,” she reports. “If you like pot, you have absolutely exposed yourself to chemicals that can damage your central nervous system, mess with your hormones and give you cancer.”


This problem will continue as long as marijuana remains federally illegal. The EPA is legally prohibited from putting money toward approval of insecticides or fungicides for marijuana.


“Common contaminants like myclobutanil and bifenazate might cause blistering rash, nausea, weight loss, vomiting – nebulous symptoms that most doctors wouldn't associate with marijuana use. And, as was the case with cigarettes, the worst public-health consequences of cannabis pesticides are likely insidious – we won't understand the full extent of what is happening for a few decades,” Lewis writes.


Unfortunately, we won’t know whether the pesticides in cannabis are causing life-long problems for consumers until enough people get sick to prove the theory.


“I’m fairly certain that ten years from now, we will get clusters of certain types of unusual illnesses in certain groups of people. And those may very well depend on who they are going to for their cannabis,” says Frank Conrad, a chemist in Colorado who Lewis reports was one of the first to alert regulators to the potential dangers of pot pesticides.


Likely only seven percent of the weed sold in the United States is screened for toxic chemicals – and many of those screening systems have proved to be ineffective, Lewis writes.


It's time for consumers to stand up and demand better.

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