I’m concerned about the purity of the weed I'm consuming, and the long-term health effects. That being said I'm also looking for something to help me manage my issues with anxiety.
Dear Clean Freak,
As someone who owns several pairs of organic cotton underthings, when it comes to what I put on, in, and around my body, I’m with you on the long-term consequence front. Because what’s the point of having a medicine cabinet full of homeopathic remedies and a (mostly) all-natural skincare regime if you’re getting your toxins in a different form? And while life is about balance (i.e. eating a whole pizza after spin class) allow me to offer some options for good clean fun, so to speak.
As with most plants and produce, organically grown is the way to go for increasing purity and minimizing harmful chemicals. But when it comes to cannabis, it isn’t as easy as looking for the organic sticker on your flat of farmers market blueberries. While organic weed is grown without added chemicals or pesticides (just like organic foods), legally it cannot enjoy the same “organic” label given to other crops by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is because the USDA is a federal agency and cannot loan its certification to cannabis, a crop still illegal on a federal level.
Nevertheless, organic pot does exist, and there are many growers out there producing quality bud using organic farming that revolves around Mother Earth–proven cycles from the soil food web instead of adding chemical pesticides. We’ll get these purity producers and their methods in a minute, but first a bit about regulation:
Federally, marijuana is still illegal whether its doused in chemical additives or ultra organic. And even in states with the growth and consumption of pot is above board, growers cannot technically employ commercial pesticides without approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Now, the EPA isn’t able to approve the use of pesticides on an outlawed crop, thus creating a sort of Catch-22 for growers that want to use pesticides—and especially for consumers that want to know the effects of inhaling marijuana that isn’t organically grown. To be clear, just because the EPA hasn’t given the thumbs up, it doesn’t mean that producers aren’t using pesticides. And it also doesn’t mean that those pesticides are illegal in their own right. In fact, the EPA has approved many of these commercial pesticides for food crops. The big difference, however, is that the EPA’s safety standards look only at ingestion and not inhalation. The impact of pesticides on marijuana crops and consumption is still relatively unknown.
Live in Washington State? The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) worked closely with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) when determining the rules and regulations around pesticide use on recreational marijuana plants. The WSDA studied pesticides that are generally allowed on crops including tobacco, food products, and hops (a close relative of cannabis) and came up with a list of 271 pesticides that Washington growers can legally (according to the state) use on pot plants. If you’re wondering which of these few hundred pesticides might exist on the pot you buy in recreational shops, just ask! Every grow operation is different, but WAC statute 314-55-087 requires that growers keep accurate records of any pesticide they apply. They then must pass that info on to any recreational store that carries the fruits of their labor, and those stores can provide the details to consumers.
For pesticide and pot regulations in states outside Washington, check with the government agencies in charge of similar statutes, or check in with your friendly neighborhood budtender to see what they know.
What about medical marijuana versus black market bud versus recreational weed?
One of recreational marijuana’s biggest competitive advantages over other sources lies in its regulation: it must be verifiably free of mold, bacteria, and unauthorized pesticides. Many medical and even black-market growers may have chosen to grow organically, but it’s extremely difficult to be sure, and harder still to know if they’re potentially using safe/unsafe pesticides, or household pesticides not approved for consumption. You also encounter higher likelihood of mold when going with an unregulated vendor.
Medical and black-market bud will definitely be cheaper than buying at a rec shop because unlicensed growers operate without the taxes and other expenses associated with I-502 compliance, in particular the cost of testing. It goes without saying that pot that’s been tested is safer to consume; and though we aren’t able to rely on federal testing, there are independent testing companies like Clean Green and Certified Kind with standards that actually surpass those of the USDA. These two agencies prohibit the use of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, but they also require growers to use sustainable growing methods and adhere to fair labor standards.
Circling back to those methods, grow operations come in two basic varieties: indoor or outdoor. While outdoor growers experience a greater number of natural pests, indoor growers need to worry about overall contamination. Most importantly, the majority of indoor grow ops are not organic due to the simple fact that the indoors are not an “organic” environment. In these set-ups, soil is replaced after every growth cycle to fit in several crops a year instead of one annual harvest. The enclosed atmosphere also lacks a natural food web, so while bugs are kept at bay, molds and fungi have to be suppressed with cleaning agents. Which leads us to…
Pesticides: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
A brief list of commercial pesticides banned from regulated marijuana growing, but which has been found in recalled cannabis across several states with legal pot laws.
Myclobutanil is an active ingredient in the Eagle 20 pesticide brand and is considered “slightly hazardous” by the World Health Organization because of its potentially harmful toxic fumes and effects on the nervous system. It’s a fungicide used to prevent brown patch and dollar spot in turf, decorative plants, and some fruits.
Imidacloprid, an ingredient in Confidor and Gaucho pesticide brands, has been dubbed a moderately hazardous insecticide by the World Health Organization. It is moderately toxic if ingested or inhaled. However, its chemical cell-binding property makes it more harmful to insects than mammals.
Avermectin is an insecticide used in both in Lucid and Avid pesticides. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) refers to Avermectin as a “Bad Actor.” Avid labels warn that that it’s harmful if inhaled.
Etoxazole is an insecticide for ornamental and landscape plants found in the TetraSan 5 WDG pesticide brand. It is not intended for inhalation.
Bifenazate, found in Floramite pesticides, is a miticide found that helps control a handful of pests on ornamental plants, greenhouse tomatoes, and non-bearing fruit trees. There haven’t been any tests on humans, and for that reason alone we’d recommend avoiding the chemical.
How do you control the bugs without the cringe-worthy ingredients above? Many growers realize that these harsh chemicals could cause lasting damage to medical and recreational users alike, and they do go out of their way to minimize harm. Instead of a toxic bath, they exercise preventive and biological measures like lovely ladybugs (to chomp away the pests) and cleansing ionized water. These natural methods actually result in stronger, heartier plants with larger yields. Chemical additives, by contrast, clog up the plants’ stigmata and create states of hibernation, thus stunting growth.
To sum it up, who doesn’t love a good pro and con list?
Non-Organic Cannabis Pros:
- Could be cheaper, depending on where you're buying.
- If regulated in the recreational market, any added pesticides are probably safe for consumption.
Non-Organic Cannabis Cons:
- Toxins. Piperonyl butoxide (PBO) and bifenthrin, two pesticides potentially associated with health complications, are some of the most common toxins found in the soils on high-production farms. When you inhale these and other chemicals, they enter the bloodstream without first being processed by the digestive and hepatic systems. Therefore, inhaled chemicals are present at greater levels in the body than orally ingested chemicals.
- Metals. Plants that are not organically grown may contain high levels of salts and metals. When rainwater mixes with these soils, it pollutes the groundwater and leads to the pollution of rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Organic Cannabis Pros:
- Organic plants are left to flourish in their natural state, giving them optimized flavor and aroma.
- Consistency. You won’t have to wonder what additives have been included in your bud.
- Overall, organic soil is better for the greater environment.
Organic Cannabis Cons:
- If you aren’t making your pot purchases at a recreational shop with records of a grower’s processing and pest control, it’s difficult to know offhand if your stash is truly “organic” or not.
And finally, for your consumption pleasure, Certified Kind provides a list of growers that meet their organic certification standards. Go forth and consume smartly, darlings.