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Can You Be Allergic to Cannabis?

May 10, 2022 08:00 am ET
Can You Be Allergic to Cannabis?

Have you ever wondered whether one can be allergic to cannabis? Some may laugh at the suggestion of one being allergic to cannabis considering its widely known safety and efficacy. However, like most substances, there may be some individuals who are allergic to it. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million people experience various types of allergies every year and it appears that cannabis allergies can be found among them. 

According to Angela Morrow and Dr. Daniel More from Verywell Health, “not only can you be allergic to weed, but a reaction can occur even after you have used pot for some time.” While it is unclear how many people are allergic to cannabis, there is a probability that we will see an increase in cases as cannabis legalization continues to gain ground. According to a study by Decuyper, Van Gasse, Sabato et al, “allergy (to cannabis) seems to be on the rise.” Despite the fact that cases are on the rise, researchers can hopefully use the opportunity to get a better understanding of the allergy but here’s what we know so far.

Being Allergic to Cannabis

According to Dr. Daniel Murrel and Kiara Anthony from Healthline, cannabis can act as an allergen which then triggers “pollen-like allergy symptoms.” Medical News Today further explains by stating that people can be exposed to the cannabis allergens by smoking, touching and eating cannabis as well as by inhaling the pollen in surrounding air. A 2018 study, despite being small-scale, suggests that people may be more susceptible to cannabis allergy if they have existing allergies to the likes of cat dander, molds, dust mites or plants. 

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The Symptoms of a Cannabis Allergy

Like most allergens, the symptoms vary from person-to-person and largely depend on how one interacts with it. Since cannabis allergy resembles “pollen-like” allergy symptoms, one can expect to experience symptoms such as:

Symptoms associated with physical contact:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness and/or inflamed skin
  • Rashes and/or hives
  • Dry and/or scaly skin

Symptoms associated with airborne exposure:

  • A dry cough
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Rhinitis (itchy, runny nose)
  • Nausea
  • Red, itchy and/or watery eyes
  • A sore and/or itchy throat

Symptoms associated with consumption:

  • Respiratory complications such as shortness of breath
  • Red and/or swelling eyes
  • Rashes, hives or skin swelling
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Anaphylaxis*

This symptom is extremely rare and has been associated with eating hemp seeds but can be life-threatening and causes breathing issues and a drop in blood pressure which may cause lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, swollen tongue, swollen throat, fainting, vomiting and paling skin. Despite its rarity, this is the most severe symptom and should be dealt with as an emergency.

The symptoms can range from mild to severe, but should be handled seriously. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, you should seek medical assistance immediately. It is also important to remember that these symptoms may appear immediately after exposure but there is also a chance that it will not appear until an hour or so after exposure.  

Cannabis Allergy Causes, Risks and Diagnosis 

For any kind of allergy, the immune system is the cause behind the allergy. The immune system is responsible for protecting the body and detecting harm, which then causes the body to release proteins known as antibodies as a defense. The release of these antibodies is what causes the symptoms associated with the allergy as they are all attempts to get rid of the harm. That being said, having an allergic reaction to cannabis is likely the result of your body overeating “to substances that do not normally cause a problem.” 

Medical News Today explains that cross-reactivity may be one of the biggest causes and risk factors when it comes to experiencing cannabis allergy. Cross-reactivity refers to being more likely to form an allergy against something when you are already allergic to a substance which contains similar protein properties.  Healthline explains that there are several foods with similar allergen properties to cannabis. If you are allergic to any of them then you may experience cannabis allergy too. These foods include: tomatoes, peaches, grapefruit, almonds, chestnuts, eggplant, apples and bananas. 

A diagnosis of your allergy will likely be done by a physician based on your allergen exposure details and symptoms as well as following allergy tests. The tests are not specific to cannabis allergy but Verywell Health explains that “in theory, your allergist could prepare an extract or mixture using the leaves, buds, and flowers of the plant that they can then use to perform a standard prick test.” 

Treatment and Precautions

If you have experienced any of the symptoms, it is recommended that you stop consuming cannabis entirely to prevent more severe reactions. If you work with cannabis, you should wear gloves, face masks and use allergy medication as need be. If you have not consumed or worked with cannabis before and are worried about being allergic, it is best to book an appointment with an allergist and/or your physician, since there are currently no treatments available for cannabis specific allergy.

Medical News Today recommends that you make use of antihistamines to manage symptoms or you can make use of allergy shots to reduce your sensitization to the substance. However, keep in mind that these are currently not available specifically for cannabis. If you are experiencing a severe reaction, where you may be experiencing anaphylaxis, the use of an epinephrine injection can buy you enough time to get treated by a doctor as well as reducing the risk of entering a coma or death. 

It is important to note that—like most allergies—anyone can develop a cannabis allergy, even if you have been consuming and working with cannabis for many years. It is possible for one to suddenly experience allergic reactions after years of having none but it is also possible to outgrow an allergy. Regardless of whether you are or are not allergic to cannabis, understanding the condition is important in case you or someone close to you, suddenly breaks out in hives and starts to swell. If you have any severe pre-existing allergies, consider getting tested for cannabis allergy before consuming to reduce the risks. 

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