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Cannabis Recall Issued by Oregon Regulatory Commission for Arsenic

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

August 17, 2023 12:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Cannabis Recall Issued by Oregon Regulatory Commission for Arsenic

In June 2023, the Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission recalled a batch of cannabis after finding it to be tainted with mold and heavy metals such as arsenic. The cannabis in question was a batch of Blueberry Muffins cultivated by Bend Cannabis Company. On July 13, the OLCC released a statement regarding the recall stating that this batch of cannabis harvested in December 2022 complied with existing testing requirements.

Under the new Oregon Health Authority (OHA) rules, any cannabis cultivated after March 1, 2023, must be tested for microbiological contaminants and heavy metals. Despite being in compliance, this batch was tested under an audit, and based on the findings, OLCC issued a recall. Within the press release, the OLCC advised consumers of the dangers of arsenic and associated diseases:

“Consumers should be aware that arsenic is carcinogenic and considered to cause a variety of diseases. Cannabis is efficient at absorbing and storing heavy metals and other pollutants found in soil and water, which increases the risk that marijuana users could ingest or inhale heavy metals. These metals can damage the kidneys and nervous system and increase the risk of some cancers.”

This isn’t an isolated incident in the Oregon cannabis market. In June, the OLCC made three other cannabis recalls on flower and pre-rolls from three separate companies, including Rebel Spirit, Nectar Markets, LLC, and Greenworks Farms. These recalls were issued after the products were found to have unsafe levels of contaminants, including Aspergillus and mercury.

The Bend Cannabis Company released the following statement addressing its cannabis recall:

“The OLCC has recently recalled our Blueberry Muffin strain of flower. Although we commend the OLCC on pursuing public safety, there were many details surrounding the recall that should be clarified. The recall was for approximately 1/3 of 1 pound of flower being sold at 1 retail location in Bend, Oregon. This product was grown organically only using water and organic soil. The soil used is commonly used in this industry and widely available at most local garden supply stores. The product tested and recalled was not required to be tested, however in the interest of being able to successfully implement the upcoming changes to testing requirements, we electively tested this product. The test results were 0.266 parts per million where the threshold in Oregon is 0.2 The threshold in Washington and Colorado for the same arsenic heavy metal test is 10 parts per million. Oregon’s limits on arsenic are about 50 times more strict than these other states. We have addressed the issue and have worked with a new soil manufacture to ensure heavy metals are not present in our flower or soil that is in production now.”

New Testing Requirements Following Cannabis Recall 

Thankfully, earlier this year, Oregon implemented regulations requiring that all cannabis harvested after March 1 has to adhere to the new testing requirements. The heavy metals testing looks for the presence of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. The microbiological contaminants that are tested for include pathogenic Aspergillus, e-coli, and salmonella, among others.

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According to these new regulations, “If a sample from a batch of a marijuana, usable marijuana, finished inhalable cannabinoid product, or industrial hemp-derived vapor item fails heavy metal testing, the batch may not be remediated and must be destroyed in a manner specified by OHA, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC), or the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA).”

This means that if dried flower or pre-rolls are found to be contaminated with heavy metals, like in the recent cannabis recall, they must be destroyed in their entirety. However, if a concentrate or extract fails, there are remediation options.

When it comes to microbiological contaminants, however, the harvested flower can be remediated through sterilization or the option to utilize the plant material for extracting cannabis concentrates utilizing a method of extraction that would sterilize the material, such as hydrocarbon solvent or a CO2 extraction technique.

Concentrates found to be contaminated with microbiological compounds can also be remediated by further processing them using one of the methods listed above for sterilization. All remediated products must be resampled and retested before being approved for market.

Reasons for a Cannabis Recall: Assessing the Risks 

While many people are happy to hear about a cannabis recall because they know there must be a reason why that could be in direct relation to consumer safety. However, when it comes to contaminant and heavy metal testing in cannabis, most people aren’t aware of just how severe some of the risks of inhaling these components can be. Let’s explore a few.

Potential Risks of Inhaling Arsenic

  • Inhalation of arsenic may cause headaches and abdominal pain within a few hours after exposure.
  • Inhaling arsenic can also cause irritation of the upper respiratory tract and symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, and even lung cancer.
  • Inhaled in sufficient quantities, it could also result in fatality.

Potential Risks of Inhaling Lead

  • Lead, like other heavy metals, is readily and easily absorbed by the respiratory tract, which can cause various respiratory issues and diseases.
  • Inhaling significant levels of lead can also result in an increased risk for cancer as well as neurological, cardiovascular, renal, and hepatic issues.
  • Lead poisoning can also lead to symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy, abdominal colic, anemia, and more.

Potential Risks of Inhaling Mercury

  • Mercury can cause damage to your immune system, kidneys, liver, and nervous system, among other areas in our anatomy.
  • The inhalation of mercury can cause direct harm to the lungs, nervous system, and kidneys. Most commonly, the lungs become inflamed, which is known as chemical pneumonitis.
  • Shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, and a persistent cough are all signs of mercury inhalation side effects.

Potential Risks of Inhaling Cadmium

  • Inhalation of cadmium can lead to flu-like symptoms in the short term, such as muscle pain, fever, and chills.
  • Low-level exposure over an extended period, however, could result in kidney, lung, and bone-related diseases.
  • High levels of inhalation of cadmium can cause severe respiratory irritation and result in acute pneumonitis, which causes chest pain and fever.

Potential Risks of Inhaling Aspergillus

  • Nearly half of all fungal infections are attributed to this contaminant, and it has been found that these infections are 3.5 times more likely to occur in cannabis consumers.
  • Allergic reactions, infections in the sinuses or lungs, and within other organs can occur as a result of inhaling Aspergillus.
  • Symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and fevers and chills have been reported from the inhalation of this contaminant.

As you can see, there are many detrimental side effects to the inhalation of these contaminants, and a vital reason why testing requirements such as this should be implemented in all medical and adult-use cannabis markets. Hopefully, with these new requirements in place, Oregon will be able to better protect the patients and consumers that rely on the state’s cannabis market–and cut back on future cannabis recalls.

Post Your Comments

sheila says:

August 18, 2023 at 8:49 am

How is Lead, Mercury, Cadmium found in marijuanna inhaled? Is it from the PEN, or is it natural components of growing the flower?


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