Marijuana, a plant widely praised for its potential therapeutic benefits, may actually make some users sick. A recent study suggests that using marijuana — even for medical purposes — may make some people sick due to harmful fungi contaminating the plant.
The research was led by Kimberly Gwinn, professor of entomology and plant pathology at the University of Tennessee Agricultural Research Institute.
The team examined data related to the U.S. hemp and hemp industry, previous research, and international regulations.
Ultimately, researchers found that contaminants present in marijuana and cannabis flowers may pose significant health risks, especially for those with compromised immune systems.
Experts strongly advocate for a deeper investigation and reassessment of standards for medical use of marijuana.
“Cannabis and hemp are new crops and we are in the early stages of understanding their pathogen relationships,” Professor Gwin noted.
“Several pathogens produce mycotoxins, compounds that can negatively impact human health and are regulated in other crops.”
“In this review, we summarize the existing literature on mycotoxins in hemp and hemp products, identify research gaps on potential mycotoxin contamination in hemp and hemp, and identify potential developments based on research in other crop systems. “
To conduct the investigation, Professor Gwinn collaborated with Maxwell Leung and Ariell Stephens of Arizona State University and Zamir Punja of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
Cannabis research has primarily focused on the plant’s substance and medical uses, but as legalization continues to increase for various uses, this article raises the need for more research on potential health risks.
“Although fungi and mycotoxins are common and well-studied contaminants in many crop species, they are generally understudied in hemp and hemp. This is partly because of the human health risks used to regulate foods and drugs, the study authors wrote Assessment methods have not yet become standard in the emerging hemp and hemp industry.
“Additionally, the widespread consumer use of cannabis and cannabis flower, including medical use by susceptible patients, makes assessing and managing the human health risks of these contaminants uniquely challenging.”
This study revealed that various fungi such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium, Mucor, etc. can infect plants and produce harmful mycotoxins.
Where these plants are grown (whether indoors or outdoors) and the medium in which they are grown (whether with or without soil) play a crucial role in determining the type of contaminants and associated health risks.
Some fungi can cause infections of the lungs and skin tissue, with infections more common in smoked marijuana than in edible marijuana, according to the researchers.
Certain groups, including cancer patients who use cannabis to relieve nausea, organ transplant recipients, HIV patients and people with type 1 diabetes, may be particularly vulnerable. Researchers also identified risks to those involved in cannabis harvesting.
Due to the lack of comprehensive data on the prevalence of these contaminants and the varying levels of legalization and regulation of cannabis products among states, consumers face some important unknowns.
The study identifies challenges in detecting pathogens using methods such as culture-based assays, immune-based technologies and more advanced technologies.
Experts stress the urgent need to bridge the gap between production issues and human safety concerns in the hemp and hemp industry.
“A major obstacle facing the cannabis and hemp industries is addressing the disconnect between production-related issues and human safety concerns,” the study authors said.
“We wrote this article to draw the attention of the scientific, medical and regulatory communities to these issues,” Professor Gwin said.
“We want to encourage further research in this area, particularly in the area of mycotoxins in products. Better data and public access to data will allow us to fully assess these risks, ensuring safe products for consumers. “
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
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