Pesticides residues in cannabis crops

Pesticides residues in cannabis crops
Written by Robert Hammell

Thanks to increased cannabis regulation, new data is emerging as to the benefits that legalization provides over maintaining it as a black market commodity. Studies have been conducted as to how sales to minors have dropped, cartels have suffered economically, and social justice shifts in various communities. Additionally, the benefits to individuals is another data source that has been evaluated thanks to regulation. This includes how to make cannabis safer for human consumption, which may stem from growing techniques. Similar to other agricultural products, a major question that remains is how pesticides are employed in cannabis production, and if they pose a danger to humans. Cannabis is different from other agricultural products, though, owing mainly to the way that it is assumed. It is worth asking, how closely are the effects of pesticides being monitored or studied, and what kind of legal limits are being implemented to protect consumers?


Pesticides Residues Found in Cannabis 

There are over 350 forms of pesticides currently used in cannabis crops during various plant development stages, and they fall primarily into three categories: insecticides, acaricides and fungicides.
These pesticides are used to eliminate various pests that may appear during the cannabis growth, but many concerns are linked to the potential presence of residues in the final products. That being said, the World Health Organization classifies pesticides as being moderately hazardous to humans, saying “They are among the leading cause of death of self poisoning,” and they “can remain for years in soil and water”.
One study of California farmers exposed to airborne pesticides found that more than 50% of the exposed later developed cancer. To put that in context, a recent study found that only 10-20% of tobacco smokers develop cancer, making pesticides statistically more risky than tobacco. Additionally, a study of Malaysian farmers found that absorption of pesticides through the skin can be even more harmful than inhalation.
While smoking may be the most common form of cannabis consumption, there are plenty of new products containing cannabis extracts that are meant to be applied topically as an ointment or a lotion. There is evidence that high pesticides residues may play a role in several neurological disorders. For this reason is necessary to reduce the use and risk of dangerous pesticides that could still be present in residues in the final product. Consumers inhaling or applying to their skin cannabis derived product should always consult the certificate of analysis in order to check if the residues are within the safe limits. High level of pesticide residues could potentially expose them to health problems.
In addition to that, due to the fact that cannabis is promoted as a medical treatment for neurological disorders like epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease and it is used by cancer patients and other people with a fragile health background as adjuvant therapy , it is necessary to have a certified cannabis product free of pesticides in order to not worsening a aleready weak health conditions.


Pesticide Regulation in Cannabis Development

While many infos about the harmfulness of pesticides may be scary, there are some good news. In addition to the World Health Organization, many other governments and institutions are aware of the harmful effects of pesticide residues in agricultural crops, and have begun regulating their usage also in the cannabis growth cycle. The EPA has denied the right to several states to use dangerous pesticides. Nevertheless this does not necessarily stop individual states’ pesticide usage. In California, for example, some pesticides can be used in cannabis production if they have been approved by state law.

A study testing pesticide levels of California cannabis found that trace amounts of pesticides residues were present in a bulk of plant material that was about to be sold.

The list of pesticides admitted is not the same in all the states or areas that have chosen to legalize cannabis. In Oregon, which borders California, there is a completely different list of approved pesticides that may be used on cannabis within the state.  In contrast, Canada has significantly stricter standards when regulating pesticides residues in cannabis. They test for over 96 types of pesticides and products must contain 0.01–1.5 μg/g of pesticides in dried flower. While this doesn’t mean there is no pesticide use at all, it is significantly less than California, Oregon or other states where cannabis is legal.  


Possible solutions to pesticides usage

For many farmers, not just those growing cannabis, the profit margins are very thin. Pesticides help to increase the likelihood that crop yields will remain high. Additionally, while the evidence suggests that pesticides may be harmful, more studies should be done in order to assess unique limits of pesticide residues in the final product and which available and green alternatives could be a safer and succesfull options to treat agricultural crops. With more research, it may come to light that there is an acceptable level of pesticide exposure that allows for maximum agricultural production while also limiting the health risks to consumers.

One way of devising an experiment like this would be to ban the use of pesticides on cannabis products that are designated to be used by medical patients. As they may have increased vulnerability to the negative consequences pesticides may provide, they could create a natural control group. Additionally, as legalization continues to spread, increased governmental regulation can help to set a baseline for acceptable levels of pesticides in cannabis products.

One reason Canada is able to set their limits so low is legalization of cannabis across the country. In the United States, the black market still sells cannabis crops grown without real quality control or attention to pesticide residues, which creates a lack of uniformity that does not exist in Canada. Additionally, market forces may also spur a type of pesticide-free cannabis as “organic” farming techniques may emerge as a marketing strategy similar to other agricultural products.

About the author

Robert Hammell