Mycotoxins, Molds, & Medical Cannabis
Molds (fungus) are living organisms that are often involved with the decomposition of organic matter. During the lifespan of a mold, it produces chemicals, by-products, and metabolites (like the alcohol produced by yeast during beer fermentation), including mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are so-named because they have been shown to be highly toxic to humans, animals, and plants. Along with acute toxicity (an immediate illness), continuous exposure to a specific mycotoxin often results in an allergic reaction resulting from buildup over time, that has the potential to be lethal to some patients. Once a patient becomes sick with a mycotoxin-induced type of allergy, the patient can remain allergic, becoming progressively sicker with each new exposure. Testing for mycotoxins — and removing them from cannabis flowers — is critical.
The most commonly seen mold is mildew, which luckily is also the least harmful. For most cannabis consumers, mildew has nothing more than a very unpleasant taste, but to those with lung impairments, compromised immune systems, or allergies to molds, mildew can become a serious problem. Making matters more serious, in general terms, very little research has been done to date to measure the effects of smoking or inhaling mold or mold spores into the lungs, so we have very little understanding of how serious these issue are.
Aspergillus is a very toxic mold sometimes seen in cannabis. Aspergillus can be black, green, brown, white, yellow or blue in color. Some strains of Aspergillus contain a highly toxic mycotoxin called Ochratoxin. Ochratoxin is carcinogenic, destroys the kidneys, and causes neuropathic pain throughout the body. Routine laboratory testing for Aspergillus and Ochratoxin is done on coffee beans, red wine, cereals and dried fruits because of these concerns.
Another commonly-appearing Aspergillus strain is a mycotoxin called Aflatoxin, which is among the most carcinogenic chemicals known. Aflatoxin has been found in the breast milk of mammals eating contaminated feed, peanut butter, cooking oils such as olive oil, and in patients using contaminated cosmetics. Liquid chromatography (LC) testing has shown at least faint traces of Aflatoxin in at least 50% of food samples tested. There are a variety of other molds and mycotoxins of concern. Under normal circumstances, the U.S. government, (through the F.D.A.) does an excellent job screening out these toxins from our food and drug supplies through mandatory testing. Unfortunately, since cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 substance, no mycotoxin testing is mandated by our government to protect us from these illnesses. Also, as mentioned previously, almost no testing has been specifically conducted to test the impact of inhalation of these molds and mycotoxins.