Smoking bunk buds may have serious health consequences for some consumers. As the cannabis industry grows, growers and dispensary owners are facing three serious problems: pesticides, fungi, and mold. Though many states now require third-party testing for legally sold cannabis, much of the cannabis industry is still unregulated. Even in places with regulation, moldy buds are sneaking onto dispensary shelves.
A small experiment
Dr. Reggie Gaudino decided to perform a small experiment. Gaudino is the Vice President of Scientific Operations for Steep Hill Labs of Berkely, California.
As reported by Business Insider, Gaudino went out one Californian day and visited three medical cannabis dispensaries. He picked up a minimum of five samples from each shop, then took them back to his lab.
Of the random samples he selected, 70% of them tested positive for pesticide residue.
Even in legal states, small quantities of these residues are permitted prior to sale. One-third of the samples Gaudino tested would have failed in Oregon, the state with the most stringent testing policy.
Other studies have cautioned against microbial pathogens as well. One 2016 review cited evidence that two types of toxic fungi were present in dispensary-tested cannabis, Penicillia and Aspergilli.
These two organisms can release harmful mycotoxins that may contribute to infection and negative health effects.
One 2011 series of case reports suggests that moldy cannabis buds may contribute to chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, a disease caused by the aspergillus fungus.
This condition can cause both a fungal infection as well as allergic reaction to the fungi and the mycotoxins they produce.
The City of Denver has also issued warnings about Clostridium botulinum found in cannabis foods and extracts. Clostridium botulinum is a fungus that can produce a life-threatening toxin in high concentrations.
The Fungus leaves spores in plant products, which can survive in heat and eventually trigger an outbreak of bacterial growth when the conditions are met.
3 ways to avoid bunk buds
Fortunately, states are quickly adopting testing requirements for newly implemented cannabis programs. All states with legal recreational cannabis dispensaries have testing requirements for consumer products.
Moldy cannabis products and residual pesticides also affect those with compromised immune systems more than healthy consumers.
Inhaling a few spores might not make the average consumer ill, but they could potentially cause problems for some medical cannabis patients, such as those undergoing immunosuppressive chemotherapy.
Here are three tips for avoiding bad bud:
1. Go organic
Both organic and nonorganic cannabis can develop molds and mildews. Yet, opting for chemical-free bud at the dispensary (or at home!) automatically reduces health risks associated with exposure to synthetic chemicals.
In Gaudino’s small experiment, he also found that 50% of the Californian dispensary samples contained Myclobutanil, which is an anti-fungal treatment.
Eating Myclobutanil on raw foods and vegetables is deemed as safe. However, the compound secretes a hydrogen cyanide gas when heated. Hydrogen cyanide can affect nearly every organ in the body, interfering with the ability to properly use oxygen. It is also a weapon used in chemical warfare.
2. Always flush
Those who decide to use chemical nutrients, pesticides, fungicides, or insecticides should always flush their cannabis before consuming.
Flushing cannabis is a simple trick that can make a world of difference in the taste and safety of the overall cannabis crop. Simply use water to flush residual nutrients and other treatments from the soil.
Growers typically withhold all nutrients and chemical treatments in the last two weeks before harvest. During that time, soil is saturated with water until runoff is mostly clear. When possible, avoid spraying chemicals on the bud or leaves of the plant.
While flushing is certainly important, only testing the plant in a laboratory will determine whether or not the crop is fit for human use.
3. Opt for lab-tested suppliers
A good budtender will always be able to discuss the testing results of their offered strains. However, every state has different testing requirements.
Many cannabis packages will include the amount of THC and whether or not the sample complies with state requirements. But, specific information on pesticide, solvent, and fungal residue may take a little digging.
For more detailed information, many labs report their testing data online. Researching local testing data can help pinpoint reputable growers in any given region. For growers, having crop samples tested is the only sure-fire way to determine whether or not plants harbor unwanted mold spores.
To learn more about how to read cannabis testing labels, check out this article.