Though we don’t often think about it, consuming marijuana means you’re ingesting more than just THC. The process of growing and curing weed often subjects the plant to numerous chemicals and pathogens, and without any oversight or regulation, consumers are forced to rely on growers to be responsible in their use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Unfortunately, most marijuana growers lack a proper understanding of agriculture science.
One example is the widespread use of the fungicide “Eagle 20 EW” which has been detected in commercial grows in Colorado. Though its commonly used on hops and grape crops, the compound has been banned for use on tobacco because the residue left behind becomes toxic when burned.
A recent independent study in the state found that nearly every sample of medicinal marijuana obtained contained trace amounts of harmful, potentially carcinogenic pesticides. Even though these chemicals were only present in very low concentrations, regular long-term exposure could pose a health concern, especially to patients with already compromised immune systems.
The improper use of pesticides becomes an even bigger problem when we begin to look at cannabis extracts. By concentrating the marijuana plant, one can also unintentionally concentrate any residual pesticides left behind in the plant. As any toxicologist will be happy to tell you, “the danger is in the dose,” the more concentrated a toxin is, the greater a threat it poses to peoples’ health.
Additionally, though butane itself is considered generally non-toxic at mild concentrations, 99.99% pure butane is nearly impossible to obtain without ordering from a specialized, regulated scientific supply company leaving most “extract artists” to rely on disposable butane canisters that use any number of toxic adulterants as a carrier gas (some of these canisters may advertise themselves as “pure” but even the most expensive lab-grade reagents can only assure a >95% purity as the gas can decompose into primary products).
One last concern specifically addresses CBD concentrates which are often manufactured from industrial hemp. As these concentrates have risen in popularity, China has begun exporting extracts made from Chinese hemp which could pose a health risk. The New York Times and BBC recently published several articles covering how heavy metal runoff from mining operations has made its way into the food supply, skyrocketing cancer rates by as much as 500% (maybe more, its hard to determine exactly how bad things have gotten with a lack of reliable self-reporting from China). It’s been well established that plants like hemp readily absorb these heavy metals and that Chinese environmental authorities cannot be trusted for proper analysis or certification of such materials. Consumers must be cautious and make sure to only purchase extracts produced in countries with strong regulations like the U.S. and Canada.
So how clean is your cannabis concentrate? It’s impossible to know without thorough independent chemical analysis. The extract industry has exploded largely unchecked and only now have we begun to realize that these concentrates pose a new set of concerns previously unknown with consuming the marijuana plant alone. As places like Canada and Colorado begin to adopt policies that regulate the marijuana industry, there’s no doubt we’ll gain a better understanding of exactly how these substances actually affect our health.