Product recalls are a reality in almost every industry sector. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), 200 to 300 food recall incidents occurred yearly in Canada between 2006 to 2013. While recalls are an unfortunate event, they do show that measures are in place to ensure consumer safety. The recent recall of dried marijuana and cannabis oil products from Organigram raises concern regarding how unregulated pesticides were found in products from an organically-certified producer, and more importantly, what kind of risks do these pesticides pose to human health?
The pesticides that were found in the Organigram recall were myclobutanil and/or bifenazate. In brief, these pesticides are low toxicity and are not likely to affect human health when ingested orally. However, the main point of contention around cannabis is the lack of information purporting to the risks of combustion and inhalation of these compounds. It is for this reason that they are not one of the 13 approved pesticides for use on medical cannabis in Canada.
Here is a breakdown of these pesticides:
- Myclobutanil is the active ingredient in several pesticides, including Eagle 20EW and Nova40W
- Fungicide commonly used on apples and grapes
- Low acute toxicity when ingested orally
- Not approved for use in tobacco and marijuana plants
- Human health effects from the combustion and inhalation of myclobutanil have not been evaluated
- Bifenazate is the active ingredient in Floramite
- Miticide used on fruiting vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes in Canada
- EPA reports inhalation toxicity – Category IV (practically non-toxic)
- Used in unregulated marijuana markets
- Not registered for use on cannabis
- Human health effects from the combustion and inhalation of bifenazate have not been evaluated
The glaring concern is the lack of information regarding the effects of combustion and inhalation of these compounds. Tolerance levels will vary significantly depending on the route of administration. When a substance is ingested orally, it is metabolized by gut enzymes and filtered through the liver prior to entering the bloodstream. Inhalation, however, is a more direct route of entry into the bloodstream.
Since dried cannabis typically requires some form of combustion, this could change the entire chemical landscape of these compounds. Myclobutanil, when exposed to heat, decomposes to produce mainly carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen cyanide. While this may appear alarming, it is important to note that combustion of dried marijuana itself also releases carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, not to mention benzopyrene and tar. As mentioned previously, myclobutanil is currently not approved for use on tobacco and marijuana plants in the United States or Canada; however, it is approved for used on tobacco plants cultivated in China. In a 2012 study, researchers found that approximately 10% myclobutanil was present on the tobacco leaves 21 days following treatment. While these levels are considered non-lethal, they may still be clinically relevant.
The recall of oil products may be of greatest concern since bifenazate and myclobutanil are both soluble in many of the solvents used in cannabinoid extractions. Therefore, they are likely co-extracted (at varying recovery rates) during the oil production process. Extraction of cannabinoids will typically involve concentrating the extract, which will concurrently increase the levels of any pesticides present.
The nature and amount of unregulated pesticides detected in the Organigram recall should pose little to no risk to consumers. Perspective-depending, these recalls may cause some to question the quality and safety of legal marijuana, while others are glad that Health Canada now has their backs when it comes to providing them with a safe product and weeding out unwanted chemicals.
Featured image via Wikipedia.
This article was edited to note the pesticides in question are myclobutanil and/or bifenazate, not necessarily myclobutanil and bifenazate.