Tracking Down Toxicity

Without a doubt, we live in a contaminated world. From pesticides to heavy metals, test results reveal that toxins are present in a wide range of products. Fruits, vegetables, cereals, coffee, and even chocolate can be laced with nefarious ingredients. We know that eating fish too frequently can cause mercury poisoning, and most natural, plant-based products have trace amounts of metals depending on their environment. However, we don’t inhale tomatoes into our lungs.

The legalization of cannabis, along with state regulation requiring cannabis testing, has led to improved processes and safer products. Since journalists first uncovered contaminants in concentrates in Denver, Colorado in 2015, the industry has adapted and adjusted to ensure consumers are getting the safest, cleanest products possible.

However, when SC Labs started seeing pre-rolls fail for chlorpyrifos, a banned, Category 1 pesticide, they wanted to know why. Cannabis Tech spoke with Joshua Wurzer, President, and Co-Founder of SC Labs, to discuss what they found.

Rolling Papers, Blunt Wraps, and Cones, Oh My!

“We had a few different customers submit pre-roll samples for California-required batch testing that failed for chlorpyrifos, despite knowing the [flower] material was clean,” Wurzer explained.

He added that in today’s legal market, a positive indication of pesticides is uncommon. “Inhaling metals is not ideal,” Wurzer noted, “there’s some level of metals in almost anything we consume. But it’s very rare, that cannabis growers fail lab tests – most cannabis growers operating in the market are free of metals and free of pesticides, thanks to regulation.”

Questioning their own results, the team at SC Labs began the search for the source of the contamination.

As it turns out, the researcher traced the source to the rolling papers used to make the finished product. And, with that discovery, SC Labs set out to determine how prevalent contamination is in cannabis smoking papers. The testing looked for four types of metals, including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury, as well as 66 kinds of pesticides and five mycotoxins.

By testing 118 different products purchased from local retailers, as well as through Amazon, they learned 90 percent of the papers tested positive for heavy metals, and 16 percent tested positive for pesticides. Only two products tested positive for chlorpyrifos.

In California, Category 1 pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, have the lowest action limit, meaning if it is detected, then it is a failure.

Wurzer pointed out that most standard rolling papers showed the lowest levels of contamination. However, eight of the products had gross contamination of at least two times the California action limits. Two of three cellulose papers tested contained over 100 times the allowable limits of lead. Wurzer expressed great concern for consumers using cellulose products.

Toxins are Everywhere

While no one wants to consume potentially hazardous chemicals intentionally, as Wurzer pointed out, the truth is, heavy metals and toxins are found in many of the products we consume today. Fruits and vegetables are notorious for containing pesticides and metals.

However, when we ingest potential toxins, the body goes to work. The liver helps to deactivate and remove potential toxins, medications, and other harmful substances from items we eat. But when we inhale cannabis, the chemicals in the plant material go directly to our lungs and into our bloodstream. While the toxins may come in small doses, continued inhalation and exposure could pose a significant problem.

A recent article from Consumer Reports stated, “…pesticides can damage the brain and nervous system. And even low levels have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and other health problems.” Additionally, the EPA warns about the dangers of pesticide use for agricultural workers, stating that exposure to pesticides is tied to asthma, bronchitis, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate and lung cancers.

Wurzer reminded it’s not necessarily the grower’s fault that crops become contaminated. Obviously, in this situation, the cannabis wasn’t the problem; it was the rolling paper manufacturers. Similarly, Wurzer shared a story about a product using beeswax that tested positive for a miticide used for livestock. The beeswax was sourced from a farm near a cattle operation. So, the wax became contaminated by bees carrying the toxin back to the hive on their legs. Likewise, he said cacao with cadmium contamination was used to make infused-chocolates, ultimately causing the entire batch to fail California testing requirements.

Cannabis Manufacturers Take Note

The obvious moral of this story is that cannabis producers need to be vigilant about ALL the ingredients they use in their finished products, or they risk negating the hard work they put into growing a clean, quality product. While vape cartridges have been the villain in the past, manufacturers need to be cognizant of the potential hazards lurking in the shadows.

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