Marijuana’s effects are pretty well-known: Altered perception, euphoria, relaxation and in some cases an increased appetite. But what about running noses and itchy eyes?
The idea of a pot allergy isn’t so strange. Marijuana’s nicknamed “weed” and “grass” for a reason. Like other plants, it generates pollen, which is a common allergen for many people.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) reports 50 million people in the U.S. are affected by nasal allergies, and the numbers are increasing. Allergic diseases – including asthma – are the fifth most chronic disease in the U.S. and the third most chronic diseases for children.
Allergies are caused by the body reacting to something it perceives as a threat. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says the body does this by manufacturing immunoglobulin E, a protein that stimulates cells to release chemicals causing allergic reactions. Most allergic reactions are relatively mild, but some people experience anaphylaxis, a rare, life-threatening reaction.
Marijuana’s rising profile has caused it to become the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, so physicians may be seeing more pot-related allergy cases in their offices. That’s been the experience for University of Colorado professor and allergist William Silvers, M.D.
Becoming more common
In February, Silvers published an editorial in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. In it, he describes three patients he treated for allergies, one of whom worked as a trimmer for a legal marijuana grower. According to Silvers, the patient – who was also a regular marijuana smoker – complained of severe nasal congestion, wheezing and a cough shortly after beginning work.
A review of research on marijuana allergies was published in the same journal in 2015. The authors wrote that allergy cases related to marijuana, although still rare, were occurring with “increased frequency.” Not all of the cases involved marijuana; one case cited by the authors involved a patient who consumed food prepared with hemp seeds. That patient’s reaction was so severe they experienced anaphylactic shock. The authors also warn marijuana’s current legal status could create problems with reporting and diagnosis.
But allergies to pollen and THC – marijuana’s active ingredient – may not be the only surprising health hazard to marijuana.
Contaminants and marijuana
In 2013, researchers at the University of New Haven in Connecticut examined marijuana under microscopes. According to lead researcher Heather Miller Coyle, Ph.D., mold, mildew and bacteria such as e.coli and salmonella are contaminants in marijuana. They’re not alone; California-based marijuana testing lab The Werc Shop studied the potential risk of exposure to pesticides and other chemicals from marijuana consumption, finding a high-percentage risk from glass and unfiltered pipes.
There have been several high-profile cases in the media involving pesticides and marijuana. Additionally, a white paper published in 2015 by the Cannabis Safety Institute found many products containing marijuana also contained pesticides such as carbaryl at higher levels than what’s usually allowed in consumable products.
Still some risks
Although marijuana’s public image has improved considerably – and studies have shown that it’s a less risky drug to consume than tobacco and alcohol – there’s still plenty of other risks involved in its consumption. Like other psychoactive substances, marijuana use can become an unwanted compulsion for some people. Sovereign Health is a leading treatment provider for drug and alcohol addiction. Our dual diagnosis approach treats both addiction as well as any co-occurring conditions that could be contributing to it. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at firstname.lastname@example.org.