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Health & Medicine

Fungus in Cannabis Products: A Hidden Health Concern

— January 29, 2024

More research on cannabis pathogens and fungal toxins is needed to guarantee the safety of these products.

Ever since cannabis products have started becoming legalized, they have been touted even more for various health benefits. However, recent studies have shown that they may harbor fungus that pose potential risks to human health. While the fact that many fungi within the hemp and cannabis plants are harmless was marketed quite extensively, it has now been shown that certain strains, notably Aspergillus and Fusarium, raise concerns. This is particularly the case for immunocompromised individuals.

Unfortunately, this impact isn’t just limited to those consuming cannabis products directly. Instead, these dangers also relegate to second and even third-hand consumers of these products. Here, we look into the uneven or non-existent regulations surrounding fungus in cannabis, shedding light on the need for standardized testing and comprehensive research.

Hemp and cannabis, integral to the growing medical cannabis industry, are susceptible to various fungi. Aspergillus and Fusarium, in particular, are known to produce toxins with health implications. The absence of state or national mandates for Fusarium toxin testing in cannabis and inconsistent regulations for Aspergillus toxins demand a closer examination of their effects on human health.

A comprehensive review of scientific literature by a team of plant pathologists and toxicologists uncovered that the toxins produced by Aspergillus and Fusarium fungi can endure the manufacturing process, remaining present in numerous cannabis products.

Fungus in Cannabis Products: A Hidden Health Concern
Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

Despite the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill’s definition of hemp and the push for legal cannabis cultivation, the prevalence of fungus in these products remains largely unregulated.

While Aspergillus is commonly associated with lung infections, our research team highlights the potentially greater risk posed by Fusarium toxins in cannabis. Sixteen Fusarium species have been isolated in cannabis flowers, producing toxins linked to adverse effects such as:

  • Nausea,
  • Vomiting,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Cancer,
  • Reproductive disruption, and
  • Kidney impairment.

These toxins pose heightened dangers to individuals with immune disorders, as evidenced by fungal infections associated with marijuana use among immunocompromised patients.

Regulations regarding fungal toxins in cannabis products lack uniformity across states. Testing for Aspergillus varies, with states employing different methods that often fail to distinguish between harmful and benign fungi.

Fusarium toxins, although monitored in major food crops, escape regulation in hemp and cannabis. This inconsistency raises concerns about the safety of cannabis products, particularly as their consumption continues to rise.

Controlling fungi in cannabis crops is imperative for plant and human health. Limited research, compounded by historical restrictions on hemp cultivation, has left disease management strategies ambiguous.

The lack of universally applied techniques, such as radiation to eliminate fungi, further complicates the situation. With few registered agricultural products for hemp use, producers face challenges in ensuring a safe cultivation environment.

To guarantee the safety of cannabis products, addressing knowledge gaps is paramount. Research on cannabis pathogens, fungal toxins, and the development of resistance against pathogens requires attention and funding.

The establishment of consistent methods for testing and regulating medicinal cannabis is crucial for ensuring the well-being of consumers, producers, and health practitioners alike. The hidden threat of fungal toxins in cannabis products underscores the urgency for standardized testing, comprehensive research, and consistent regulations.

As the cannabis industry continues to thrive, a concerted effort is needed to safeguard the health of users and establish a framework that ensures the safety of these widely consumed products.


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