Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to be allergic to marijuana. It’s a very rare and unfortunate occurrence, but there are people out there who cannot be around the plant. In some cases, the secondary components that come with the herb, such as pesticides or molds, are to blame for puffy eyes and persistent sneezing.
“Now as the prevalence [of marijuana use] is increasing, and with the legalization in many states, it is going to become increasingly more common, and all these cases will surface that were not recognized before,” said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist from the Allergy & Asthma Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes allergy research and education.
Allergens in Marijuana
There are several things inside marijuana that have been linked to sensitive allergies in consumers. The first is cannabis pollen, which is commonly produced by male plants and “females that express hermaphroditic male flowers.” A study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology highlighted that 73 percent of participants with low tolerance to marijuana pollen were also sensitive to other types plants, including hemp, ragweed and Russian thistle. Like typical pollen allergies, this type of condition manifests externally through sneezing, headaches and watery eyes.
What about individuals who are allergic to female cannabis flowers? Previous studies suggest that the plant’s proteins could be causing unwanted reactions in some individuals. Researchers have uncovered Rubisco, a plant protein found in weed that aids the conversion of carbon dioxide into natural sugar, to be closely linked with allergies in other plants and potentially cannabis. Interestingly, in a 2011 report, scientists found that most people who are sensitive to marijuana may also be allergic to tobacco, tomato or peach.
“In the 2011 study, it was found that pollen allergy was not associated with cannabis allergy itself. This implies that individuals can be allergic to only the pollen, or only the other allergens present, but that it is unlikely for someone to be allergic to both,” said Seshata from Sensi Seeds.
Recommendations for Cannabis Allergies
If your marijuana allergy is associated with the ingredients used during cultivation, it would be best to stick to suppliers with clean growing practices. If you’re in a state that permits personal cultivation, you could eliminate all possible risks by growing your own bud at home. For individuals who are mildly sensitive to the plant, it is recommended to avoid exposure in large quantities, which may trigger allergic reactions. If marijuana smoke is causing you problems, it might be worth exploring other cannabis mediums, including edibles, drinks and tinctures.
Lastly, as with all allergies, getting properly diagnosed from a licensed doctor is the key to prevention. If you’re unsure about your cannabis allergy (as mentioned earlier, you may not actually be allergic to the plant itself), try getting a skin test to verify your medical condition.
This post was originally published on June 10, 2016, it was updated on March 15, 2017.