New research urges state and federal regulators to take a closer look at the health and safety risks of the growing medical and recreational cannabis market.
“Regulation of cannabis differs from agricultural, food, and pharmaceutical products in the United States. Currently, there are no national-level guidelines based on conventional risk-assessment methodologies or knowledge of patient susceptibility to medical use of cannabis,” said first author Max. Leung said. Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Arizona State University.
“Thus, our research team conducted an initial comprehensive study to investigate three main areas of concern: 1) the current state of state-level pollutant regulations; identification of cannabis contaminants of concern; and 3) investigation of patient populations that may be susceptible to contaminants.”
The cannabis market has grown significantly over the past decade, becoming a $10 billion industry by 2017 and a $50 billion industry by 2026, with an estimated 55 million users over the past year. Fifteen states have now legalized medical cannabis, but little attention has been paid to chemical exposure and its impact on consumer safety.
At the federal level, cannabis is still listed as an illegal substance. This limits the efforts of several federal agencies to assess and mitigate the public health risks of cannabis contamination. Because cannabis is not currently regulated by the federal government as an agricultural, food, or drug, the USDA does not monitor its growth and the FDA does not consider cannabis a drug.
So how do cannabis users know that what they’re putting into their bodies is safe? ,” Leung said.
In the absence of federal guidelines, it is entirely up to the states to create a patchwork of cannabis regulations and policies. We are setting it up,” Leung said.
From their study, Leung and colleagues found that as of May 2022, 36 states and the District of Columbia will have a total of 679 cannabis contaminants listed as regulated in medical or recreational cannabis. I found you put it on the list. Most of these contaminants were pesticides (551, including 174 pesticides, 160 herbicides and 123 fungicide subcategories), followed by solvents (74), microorganisms (21), inorganic compounds (12 ), mycotoxins (5), and 16 classified as “other”. .”
“What is interesting is that many of the pesticides in this document are highly unlikely to be used in cannabis cultivation and processing,” Leung said. These insecticides included chlorpropham (a plant hormone that prevents potato germination), oxytetracycline (an antibiotic), and norflazone (an aquatic herbicide for hydrilla control).
“Also of concern to us is that the US EPA acceptance documents and individual jurisdictions have identified a total of 42 agricultural uses, including dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), chlordane, lindane and parathion, that are no longer registered for agricultural use in the US. is listing legacy pesticides.”
There was significant discrepancy from state to state regarding the amount of contaminant levels. Various state jurisdictions showed wide variation in regulated contaminants and action levels, up to four orders of magnitude.
How often has this been an issue? The research team also mined data test records of samples of cannabis flowers and extracts produced in California, the largest state cannabis market in the United States. sample data represents about 6% of California’s legal production in 2020-2021.
“As mandated by the California Medicinal and Adult Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, all cannabis and cannabis products on the legal market in California must be free of 68 pesticides, 4 inorganics, 20 solvents and 6 We need to test for microbes and five mycotoxins,” Leon said.
“Cannabis manufacturers must submit products containing cannabis flowers and cannabis products such as edibles, concentrates, and other consumables to state licensed cannabis testing laboratories. , must be certified for compliance testing before they can be legally sold.Products that fail state regulatory levels in compliance testing are subject to a recall.”
The overall failure rate for California cannabis samples was 5.1%, which included an average failure rate of 2.3% for flowers and 9.2% for extracts identified in California samples. Antibiotics and fungicides were the most common categories of contaminants detected, with boscalid and chlorpyrifos being the most common. , indicating a high risk of exposure to contaminants.
Finally, Leung’s team reviewed reports on medical cannabis use released by state-level public health agencies from 2016 to 2021. There are currently 37 medical cannabis programs in the United States and nearly 100 eligible medical conditions listed by these programs.
“Cannabis and cannabis products are often marketed as alternative options to standard treatments,” said Leung. “As such, medical cannabis can expose susceptible patients to harmful contaminants.”
“Immunocompromised patients with cancer or HIV, women of childbearing age, and those with seizures and epilepsy are among those most vulnerable to the health hazards of pesticides and microbial contamination that cannabis may contain. We will continue to do so,” Leung added.
The majority of patients were prescribed medical cannabis for pain relief (799,808 patients), followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (164,383 patients), associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury. spasticity (78,145 patients), cancer (44,318 patients), and epilepsy (21,195 patients).
“Our findings have two important public health implications,” said Leung. “First, the sporadic approach to regulation at the state level could confuse cannabis manufacturers and discourage compliance, while exposing cannabis users to higher levels of contaminant exposure in some jurisdictions. Second, given the current state of cannabis contaminant regulation in the United States, it is unclear whether the health benefits of cannabis use outweigh the health risks from exposure to cannabis-derived contaminants. is.”
To better inform the public and policy makers, Leung recommends further research to examine safety considerations in susceptible patient populations across all medical conditions.
“The progression and prognosis of many eligible conditions may be exacerbated by exposure to cannabis-detected contaminants,” Leon said. It shows the urgent need for a harmonized regulatory approach to mitigate these risks.”
The study, “Comparison of state-level regulation and public health impact on cannabis contaminants,” was published online in the peer-reviewed journal Sept. 14. Environmental health perspective.
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A comparison of state-level regulation and public health impact on cannabis contaminants, Environmental health perspective (2022). DOI: 10.1289/EHP11206
Courtesy of Arizona State University
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