Cannabis allergies a growing condition, new study finds

Scientists involved in a new medical study have concluded that cannabis, much like pollen or ragweed, is an allergen, and people can have mild to extreme reactions to it, ranging from itchy, watery eyes to deadly anaphylactic shock.

The study, conducted by Dr. Thad Ocampo and Dr. Tonya Rans at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, also shows that allergies associated with marijuana are being reported “with increased frequency,” mostly because medical and recreational use is on the rise.

As stated in a recent article, the study involved 140 patients, including participants with predisposition to allergies and marijuana users with asthma symptoms. More than 50% had a cannabis reaction to the standard skin prick allergy test and 34% had a positive reaction to the blood serum test. Prevalence was highest in the group of marijuana users who had asthma symptoms.

These findings agree with other studies, leading the doctors to conclude that “as expected with most plant aeroallergens, cannabis pollen inhalation has been noted to cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis and asthma.” Furthermore, exposure to the smoke can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and dyspnea, according to the article.

Just as someone with a peanut allergy can have a reaction after eating or even touching peanuts, the same is true with cannabis. In fact, the study included a report of a man who required an EpiPen during an anaphylactic attack after eating hemp seed-encrusted fish.

“It’s the plant itself, but also the pollen the plant gives off, and the vapor. There are multiple ways you can be exposed to the allergen,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network, said in the article.

He also noted that more research is necessary to find a cannabis-specific treatment to the allergy. Right now, the allergy is treated with the same over-the-counter and prescription medications one would get for hay fever or asthma.

This study was published in the March issue of Annals of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology just as a bill was being readied in the U.S. Senate to federally legalize medical marijuana. Advocates believe it can serve as an alternative treatment for a number of illnesses and conditions, including cancer, HIV-AIDS, seizures, nausea, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma.

Opponents to legalization often use pot’s dangers to public health as a driving argument against its use. Pointing to its allergy implications could be another point in the opposition’s case.

“I’m sure it will be part of the debate about the health risks,” Parikh said in the article. “Any health concerns are going to be brought to the forefront and should be. However, that argument could be quickly dismissed because you can be allergic to anything.”

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