Current Oregon state law requires testing for yeasts, molds, and several classes of pesticide residues, but there are many other contaminants that pose serious health risks, especially to patients with compromised immune systems.
Yeasts and Molds
Yeasts and Molds are the only microbiological agents currently required for testing under the Oregon administrative rule. Yeasts and molds are both types of fungi.
Yeasts are unicellular (one celled) and reproduce through an asexual process called “budding” where a new individual grows out of a point of the parent and then pops off and grows on its own. Yeasts can get inside the body and continue to “bud,” possibly leading to a systemic infection requiring antifungals to alleviate.
Molds are a multicellular type of fungi that grows by producing strands of hyphae, giving it its fluffy, stringy appearance. Molds can reproduce either sexually or asexually through spores. Molds can cause allergic reactions or respiratory problems in some individuals. Another dangerous thing about a mold is that it can produce mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are toxic byproducts of fungi. Anytime you see the prefix “myco”, think fungi. A common example of a mycotoxin includes aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is produced by the black mold species, Aspergillus flavus. The “Afla-“ part of aflatoxin refers to the source fungus “A. flavus”. These mycotoxins can persist long after the parent fungus has died off.
Some of these toxins are produced in significant quantities and pose health risks whether exposed through ingestion, skin exposure, or inhalation. Many mycotoxins are also recognized carcinogens. Exposure to mycotoxins can lead to compromised immune function, fever, diminished appetite leading to malnutrition, and in rare cases, death.
Testing for mycotoxins is currently not required under Oregon state law.
E. coli, Salmonella, and Other Bacteria
A variety of harmful bacteria can be found living on your Cannabis material. Often times this is due to bacteria exposure from compost, unsanitary handling of the plants by growers, or unsanitary handling of the plants by trimmers and other processors. Animals in and around a grow area can cause bacterial contaminations either through direct contact or microbiological agents on the animals fur.
E. coli and Salmonella share the same biological family and exposure to each can lead to gastrointestinal disease, as in food poisoning. It has been estimated that nearly 20 – 40% of Cannabis samples have detectable levels of E. coli or Salmonella.
These bacterial agents are currently not required for testing under current Oregon state law.
Pesticides and Other Chemical Residues
There are a variety of pesticides used in Cannabis cultivation that can leave residues in the plant material which can last well until they make it to a patient and can cause damaging health effects when ingested, especially after repeated exposure.
- Organochlorides include pesticides like DDT. These chemicals have a high potential to accumulate in water supplies and various organisms for long periods of time after exposure to the chemicals has ceased. While not all organochlorides are dangerous, some exhibit very serious negative health effects, particularly in those with compromised immune systems.
- Avermectins are commonly used to control nematodes and certain domestic animal parasites such as fleas by paralyzing them. Severe exposure can lead to coma, hypotension, and respiratory failure.
- Organophosphates and carbamates irreversibly prevent the production of a chemical required for nerve function in animals. Exposure can lead to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and ADHD. Some organophosphates are known carcinogens.
- Pyrethoids are insecticides that mimic natural pyrethins in certain flowers. These chemicals are toxic to many organisms that feed and support many natural food chains like pollinators and aquatic organisms. Cyanide can be found in some pyrethoids leading to health risks with repeated exposure.
- Spinosyns are insecticides used to kill a variety of insect pests such as lice and thrips. These pesticides are generally safer and less damaging to beneficial wildlife than other insecticides. In Cannabis cultivation, a spinosyn insecticide is sometimes used to control thrips and other plant pests just prior to harvest without damaging the leaves or flowers. The residue left in the plant material can be harmful if smoked.
Currently, under Oregon state law, it is only required to test for four different classes of pesticides: Organochlorides, Organophosphates, Carbamates, and Pyrethoids.
NOTE: Unfortunately, it is possible for a lab to test for particularly obscure or outdated pesticides in each class in order to make a sample pass and comply with state law. Be sure to find out how your lab tests pesticides and for what pesticides they are testing.
Along with these pesticide residues, there are other chemical residues and industrial contaminants that can enter a Cannabis product through the production of concentrates. Some concentrate production methods involve the use of hydrocarbon based solvents such as butane, propane, or in some cases even things like naphtha, a commercial paint thinner and lighter fluid. These solvents are sometimes very impure and bring along other contaminants with them.
The Bottom Line
Cannabis is an agricultural product the same as any other. It will eventually be subject to the same sorts of regulations and quality control as other food products. It will also fall under additional scrutiny because it is used as medicine by patients with very serious conditions.
For the recreational user, all of this talk of Cannabis contaminants might not be important or relevant. But for the seriously ill individual with a compromised immune system, it is irresponsible to let them consume a product that has not undergone testing to determine that it does not impose additional serious health risks. This is especially true for those that medicate using edibles.
If you are a patient or a caregiver of a patient with a serious condition, consider asking your local Cannabis testing lab what other services they offer besides state compliance. It might be in your best interest to have your Cannabis testing for E. coli, Salmonella, mycotoxins, or other contaminants not required by state law.
Consult with your doctor and your lab to find out what services are best for your situation.
Jason Wilson, M.S.
Tel. 541.668.7444 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.kenevirresearch.com