Hemp and Cannabis Plants Can Clean Heavy Metals from the Soil, But Is All That Metal Ending Up in Your Weed?
A new study claims cannabis plants could be dangerous to the consumer’s health due to their ability to accumulate or soak up hazardous compounds in the soil.
Cannabis plants, also referred to as accumulator plants, have an intrinsic feature that allows them to absorb toxins like heavy metals and pesticides from the soil. This ability makes the plant perfect for environmental remediation. They are planted on polluted or contaminated sites to reduce toxins in the ground. However, while this has gone on for a while, little thought has gone into how this practice affects the consumers who ingest these plants and their derived products.
Heavy Metals Definition
Heavy metals are naturally occurring compounds that are metallic and have high densities. Some of these chemical elements are known to be toxic regardless of their concentrations in the soil. They are found in the earth’s crust, so it is unavoidable that consumers are exposed to these compounds.
Heavy metals like arsenic, lead, nickel, and mercury can be described as carcinogenic compounds, as they predispose consumers to chronic ailments like cancer. These compounds are present in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and even the water we drink. With the recent study that found cannabis absorbs most of these compounds from the soil, it’s high time we accept that our medicines may contain heavy metals. There are valuable heavy metals, but they must be taken in minute doses. Some of these beneficial metals include zinc, copper, and iron. Humans and plants both require a certain amount of these compounds to thrive.
The Latest Report
A new study led by Penn State researchers investigates the ability of cannabis plants to absorb heavy metals and discusses the health implications for consumers. According to medicalxpress.com, the team proposes a blueprint of strategies for growers to reduce heavy-metal uptake by their crops.
Louis Bengyella, assistant research professor of plant science at Penn State, explained that lead is one of the heavy carcinogenic materials which could have drastic health implications when consumed in high concentrations. He added that many cannabis consumers are unknowingly exposed to many of these heavy metals. This could pose a severe problem for cancer patients who use medical cannabis drugs. He stated that although the cannabis-derived drugs could improve the symptoms at that point, the carcinogenic toxic metals may cause more harm than good as the treatment progresses.
In regular cannabis users, these heavy metals can cause cancer and some neurological issues. The team discovered that heavy metal contamination in cannabis could result in a variety of health problems because heavy metals accumulate in specific areas of the human body, causing chronic or fatal health conditions. This is one reason why it is advised that strains that have been developed for phytoremediation reasons should not be sold or used for consumption purposes. If these strains, which are used to rid the environment of soil, water, or air pollutants, are used, consumers have a higher risk of getting exposed to these chemical metals.
Common Carcinogenic Heavy Metals
These are the top four common heavy metals that have posed a problem not only in cannabis cultivation but in agriculture generally.
Nickel: Nickel is a heavy metal that the human body has evolved to absorb in small amounts safely. The kidneys remove and excrete a large portion of the nickel we are exposed to, such as through particles in the air or other nickel products. Large doses of nickel, on the other hand, can result in stomach aches, heart failure, kidney and lung damage, neurological effects, gastrointestinal distress, dermatitis, and cancer.
Lead: This is yet another infamous poison that has been linked to fatal health issues, particularly in children with learning disabilities and developmental delays. Adults who have been exposed to lead may experience intestinal distress, headaches, joint pain, and reproductive problems. Although lead was once used to make pencils and paint, it is now commonly found in soil and the air.
Arsenic: High arsenic doses can cause diarrhea, violent vomiting, clammy hands, low blood pressure, and even death due to a lack of blood flow. Arsenic is also a carcinogen, having been linked to a variety of cancers. This is a well-known human poison; in fact, it has been used in the commission of murder.
Mercury: Mercury, a byproduct of coal combustion, is toxic to the nervous system. Tremors, coronary heart disease, psychological changes, numbness, pain, memory issues, difficulty walking, and seizures are all symptoms of mercury poisoning.
More Details on the Report
The team stated that toxic metal chemical elements like lead and chromium could be transported and distributed from the root to the stalk and, finally, the leaves and flowers of a plant. In cannabis plants, when present in high quantities, these compounds exit the plant through its trichomes (trichomes are tiny hairlike structures present on flowers).
Bengyella said that trichomes are one of the essential parts of the cannabis plant desired by consumers. This structure holds the CBD oil as well as the THC needed by most consumers. According to the team’s findings, the greatest danger to human health occurs when cannabis high in heavy metals is consumed in combustible forms. This claim was backed by the results of an analysis of heavy metals in the smoke of marijuana, which showed the presence of mercury, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium, and cadmium in significant proportions.
The report, which has been published in Toxin Reviews, argues that the effect of these toxins on the system can be reduced by proper agricultural practices. Farmers are advised to leave polluted sites alone and always conduct a soil pH test before planting any cannabis strain. Yes, the pH level of soil tells a different story about the number of heavy metals present. Consumers are also advised to request the results for heavy metals for every strain purchased in a dispensary. Consumers’ health should not be put at risk. Hence better regulations need to be put in place to ensure dispensaries and farmers conduct tests for all forms of toxins in the soil like pesticides and carcinogenic heavy metals. Safety first!