Lab Matters Spring 2017 - Page 9

s d e An ounce of recreational marijuana flower will set you back $125 at Buddy Boy, a Colorado cannabis retailer and medical marijuana dispensary with seven Denver locations and over 100 strains of weed, including Blue Magoo, Kush Master and Tangerine Haze. N ot interested in flower buds? Not a problem. Buddy Boy will be happy to sell you a Jungle Roast chocolate bar ($4.50), Sons of Sativa canna punch ($7.00 and up), Mountain High Suckers lozenges ($6.08) or any of dozens of other edibles, concentrates, tinctures or topicals. Buddy Boy even has its own “Bud Club” rewards program and a discount for military veterans. Yet, in 2017, the most remarkable thing about Bu ddy Boy is not its broad array of wares, but rather the mere fact that they are so openly advertised on the Internet. As it stands today, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, on the same US government list as heroin, ecstasy and other illicit drugs deemed to have high abuse potential, “lack of accepted safety” for medicinal use and “no currently accepted medical use in the United States.” This discrepancy—between cannabis’s ready availability and its federal classification—is a problem. It is a problem for the District of Columbia and 28 states that have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational adult use. It is a problem for cannabis vendors and users, who operate in a largely cash- only, legal gray zone. And it is a problem for state agencies and laboratories tasked with regulatory oversight and public health surveillance of cannabis safety. The safety issue is not insignificant. The Mountain High Suckers lozenges sold at stores like Buddy Boy, for example, were voluntarily recalled in 2015 after testing positive for imidacloprid and myclobutanil—two pesticide chemicals PublicHealthLabs @APHL banned for use on Colorado-grown cannabis. At the time, it was the 16th cannabis-related recall in Denver in 16 weeks, according to The Cannabist, an online, Denver-based news outlet. Yet, even if unsprayed, Cannabis sativa carries risks. For one thing, the plant’s proclivity for concentrating dangerous heavy metals in its tissues is so well known that industrial hemp is sometimes used for phytoremediation of heavy metal polluted soils, including around the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. And earlier this year, researchers at the University of California at Davis announced that they had detected potentially dangerous microbes on 90% of cannabis samples purchased from 20 Northern California growers and dispensaries. The study was prompted by the unexpected death of a California cancer patient and medical marijuana user who was killed by a fungal infection. Anne Walsh, PhD, MD—who oversees medical marijuana testing at the New York state public health laboratory (PHL), the Wadsworth Center—stressed the necessity of laboratory testing to verify dosage and protect vulnerable populations: “Many of the patients who will be using this will be immune- compromised or very young children with seizure disorders who, if they get a good response, will be taking this product long term.” Spring 2017 LAB MATTERS 7