In a startling find, a recent study has discovered that cannabis may contain heavy metals and affect consumer health.

The study’s results were published in a recent issue of Toxin Reviews, hosted by Taylor and Francis Ltd.

“Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium, are known to be carcinogenic,” said Louis Bengyella, assistant research professor of plant science, Penn State.

“The heavy-metal content of cannabis is not regulated; therefore, consumers could unknowingly be exposed to these toxic metals. This is bad news for anyone who uses cannabis but is particularly problematic for cancer patients who use medical marijuana to treat the nausea and pain associated with their treatments.”

Cannabis plants have an inherent ability to absorb heavy metals from the soil. Being able to soak up toxic metals may also make cannabis dangerous for consumers who ingest it.

A new meta-analysis, led by researchers at Penn State, examines the ability of cannabis plants to absorb heavy metals and discusses the resulting health impacts on consumers.

Compounding the problem, Bengyella said, is the fact that some cannabis strains have been bred specifically for phytoremediation, which is the use of plants to remove pollutants from soil, water or air.

“The problem is if we use these strains that were developed for phytoremediation without considering why they were developed in the first place, we may unknowingly expose consumers to heavy metals,” he explained.

Bengyella and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of research studies on heavy-metal contamination in cannabis and investigated available information on the application of cannabis in phytoremediation, the fate of heavy metals in cannabis plants, the medical impact of heavy metals in cannabis and agricultural strategies to mitigate heavy metal uptake.

“Trichomes are important because they store the CBD oil and the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that are desired by consumers,” said Bengyella. “This led us to question if these heavy metals are there at the level of the trichome, what can they do to people?”

“Cannabis consumed in combustive form represents the greatest danger to human health, as analysis of heavy metals in the smoke of cannabis revealed the presence of selenium, mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, nickel and arsenic,” added Bengyella. “It is disturbing to realize that the cannabis products being used by consumers, especially cancer patients, may be causing unnecessary harm to their bodies.”

The authors say that the application of agricultural best practices, such as choosing cannabis varieties that were not bred to better absorb heavy metals and choosing farmland that is free of heavy metals, can mitigate heavy metal contamination.
“The problem is at the level of the consumer who uses cannabis products, but the solution must come at the agricultural level,” said Bengyella. “We believe that is where we should hammer hard and solve the problem.”

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