More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, according to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology each year. This is a massive number of people that experience some sort of allergic reaction at one point in their life.
Traditionally, when we think of allergies we think of: food, pollen, cats, mold etc. In cases like this, one would simply keep the house clear of mold, not get a cat and perhaps pop a benadryl. But what if you had an allergic reaction to your job, or something you enjoy doing? What if you found that you had an allergic reaction to something you need? Unfortunately, this is a growing reality for more and more medical marijuana patients.
Since legalization, there has been a growing number of stories of allergic reactions to cannabis strains. They result in: constant nose drips, watery eyes, stuffy head and burning eyes. But many budtenders and even doctors don’t know what to do about this…marijuana allergies have been under the radar in the scientific community for a long time; it is only now that marijuana allergies are on the rise.
Cannabis as an Allergen
It makes sense that more and more people are reporting allergies to cannabis, as there are several attributes specific to cannabis and its production that make it a source of allergies. Similarly to plants like ragweed, cannabis pollen grains are buoyant – which makes it easier for them to travel many many miles, and thus increases their effectiveness as an irritant.
Typically the pollen itself is only produced by the male plants. However, this is where it starts getting complex; pollen can also be produced by the female plants that express hermaphroditic male flowers. However, there has been an isolation of female flowering plants (aiming to prevent pollination) which raises the plant’s THC content. Unfortunately, this could actually play a role in allergic disease, because it has been suggested that THC is a potential cannabis allergen.
The further add to the complexity, there are a variety of preparations of cannabis sativa. And, some allergic reactions could be not to the plant itself, but to mold that can sometimes be found on cannabis, especially when it is stored.
Marijuana Allergies & Their Symptoms
Cannabis pollen inhalation has been noted to cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis and asthma. Pollen or smoke exposure can result in nasal congestion, rhinitis, sneezing, conjuctival injections, an itchy throat, coughing, wheezing and a difficulty in breathing.
There have also been reports of skin irritation. These symptoms include: hives, itching and swelling.
There are also some more severe cases of allergic reactions, but more medical marijuana research needs to be conducted.
Diagnosing a Cannabis Allergen
The evaluation of marijuana allergies is dependent largely on skin testing, using a skin prick test. If sensitive, to protect the body from a perceived threat, the immune system produces a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E. Then an allergen-specific IgE blood test is done to check whether a person is allergic to a particular substance. Extracts for testing are typically created with crushed buds, leaves, and flowers of the cannabis plant.