Contaminants (pesticides and fungicides) in medicinal cannabis

The use of pesticides on cannabis plants is something NCPIC has warned users about regularly in the past. Over recent years, it has become even more concerning as parents consider giving the drug to their children who are suffering from serious illnesses, without being able to be fully aware of what different chemicals may have been used to support the growth of the plant. Pesticides can be highly toxic and have serious side effects, and pesticide testing regimes in the US differ from state to state

contaminants in medical cannabis

Our attitudes to cannabis have fluctuated a lot over the last few centuries. Before modern Western medicines were developed, cannabis was used widely in Eastern healing. It was made illegal in the 1930s and remained that way for many years. In 1936, the film Reefer Madness encapsulated government propaganda on the harms of cannabis, and just 30 years later, the legalisation of medical cannabis in California, based not on evidence, but public voting, showed how everything that’s old becomes new again.

There are many and varied opinions on the different medical cannabis models introduced around the world over recent years. But one thing that has become evident in the USA – as flexible regulations have led to contamination issues – is safety should always be the number one priority.

Does the USA have a medical cannabis contaminant problem?

It’s been widely reported recently that pesticides that are illegal to use on cannabis plants are being detected in some medical (and recreational) cannabis products grown, marketed and sold to the public in the US.

The use of pesticides on cannabis plants is something NCPIC has warned users about regularly in the past. Over recent years, it has become even more concerning as parents consider giving the drug to their children who are suffering from serious illnesses, without being able to be fully aware of what different chemicals may have been used to support the growth of the plant. Pesticides can be highly toxic and have serious side effects, and pesticide testing regimes in the US differ from state to state.

The detection of these pesticides has led to ongoing investigations and products being recalled, plants put into quarantine and even a class-action lawsuit (a group of people with the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action, sue the defendant) involving people who say they wouldn’t have inhaled the product had they known illegal pesticides were used during cultivation. It will be interesting to monitor outcomes from these types of litigation, and consider how this will affect the industry.

Another contaminant commonly found in US medical marijuana is mould and fungi which grows on the plant whilst it is being stored. The health consequences of this type of contamination remain to be adequately researched.

Will this be a risk in Australia?

In April this year, ABC reported an Australian first – a farm that has been earmarked for use to grow medicinal cannabis has officially been opened at an undisclosed location near Tamworth in northern New South Wales. So who’s going to be granted licences to grow? And can we be confident the cannabis grown for medical purposes will be safe and not contaminated with heavy metals, moulds and pesticides?

Numerous companies and groups, such as United In Compassion Ltd (UIC), are keen to be involved and are lining up and positioning themselves to apply for the licenses needed to grow medicinal cannabis and create what will likely be extremely lucrative businesses. Erin Resources, for example, has diversified and morphed from a mining company into MGC Pharmaceuticals via a reverse-takeover in February, and is reportedly working on an application for a growing licence.

Most organisations exist primarily to make money, although UIC is a non-profit organisation and the International Business Times reported in April that Lucy Haslam “made it clear she would apply for a license from the federal government so she can freely cultivate and manufacture the crop and provide it to the ones who can’t afford it at subsidised rates”. Ensuring cannabis is pesticide and other contaminant-free will require the commitment of these organisations to the safety of patients using medical cannabis. As seen in the USA, it will also heavily rely on legislation being structured in such a way that all risks are considered, growers are accountable, and safety is the number one priority, not money.

To keep us to date with news about medicinal cannabis developments, click here: https://ncpic.org.au/news/cannabis-news/

And for more information on cannabis contamination click here: https://ncpic.org.au/professionals/publications/bulletins/cannabis-contamination/

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