In the U.S., 36 million unfortunate souls have a cannabis allergy. Be it first-hand or second-hand smoke, it turns out that almost ¾ of American allergy sufferers incur inflammatory and/or respiratory reactions that are similar to symptoms of hayfever after coming in contact with the plant. While red eyes from a few good tokes are common, the symptoms of cannabis allergies can range from a runny nose and watery eyes on up to breathing difficulties like asthma and even anaphylactic shock.
Cannabis allergies may be rising
A paper published in 2015 by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that even though cannabis allergies are somewhat uncommon, there may be reasons for concern as legalization continues to expand throughout the U.S.
With state laws allowing medical and in some cases recreational use of marijuana, there is a growing potential for legitimate personal and commercial exposure.
The evolving legal status of [cannabis], its highly prevalent use throughout the world, and the varied forms in which it is used could translate into its growing role as a clinically relevant allergen that might be encountered.
The researchers pointed to case studies where individuals began exhibiting symptoms after ingesting or merely touching cannabis sativa. A patient in their late-20s suffered from bouts of sneezing, hives, facial swelling and other symptoms after handling weed.
Another patient went into anaphylactic shock soon after eating seafood that had been encrusted with hemp seeds. After taking an allergy test, it was determined that the patient was allergic to hemp rather than seafood.
Cannabis as allergen is unique
An allergist and immunologist from The Allergy & Asthma Network, Dr. Purvi Parikh told The Daily Beast that cannabis is unique in the sense that it can be ‘inhaled or ingested’ which triggers concern for many in her field.
Second-hand smoke may cause a problem for allergy sufferers who don’t necessarily even use marijuana but are simply exposed through passive inhalation.
Moreover, pollen spores from agriculture and production of marijuana can create another mode of exposure to the allergen.
Not necessarily an epidemic
Researchers aren’t necessarily viewing cannabis allergies as an impending health crisis, but they do believe that the 50 million allergy sufferers in the country should take the findings seriously.
Right now, more than half of U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Though most states only allow consumption and cultivation on private property, lawmakers in several states want to give people more public smoking options.
The establishment of smoking lounges and bring-your-own-cannabis clubs have already been discussed in a few recreational states, and even the current anti-drug climate in Washington may not be able to slow the momentum. It is unknown whether exposure to cannabis-based allergens will be a factor in deciding where and how to set up shop.
Nevertheless, anyone who expects that they may have a cannabis allergy can take a skin test to find out where they stand. As cannabis becomes more accessible, it might not be a bad idea for those with plant-based allergies to be on guard.