Someone on Reddit the other day brought up a question geared towards Health comparing Dabbing/Cartridges vs Dry Herb heating. Earlier this year I was able to live view a webinar from the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI) with renowned cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo. The live stream was riddled with video slowdowns and audio stutters and drop outs. This Reddit community is geared towards Dry Herb Heating and I didn't want to open up the can of worms associated with cartridges and dabbing in this discussion although Dr. Russo did discuss this in the same webinar, just not the issues that have progressed since April in terms of the epidemic around use of cartridge liquid based . As you can see by the products we are currently selling, we are primarily focused on dry herb heating.
This webinar was referenced while writing the text below: ICCI Webinar #1 with Dr. Ethan Russo ''Making Cannabis Safer and Better''. The video and sound quality of this video were choppy so I've basically copied some of Dr. Russo's comments verbatim or paraphrased them and added some insights of my own. I paid ICCI to view this live.
Potential sources of contaminants of cannabis during cultivation that can affect flavor and test results are PAHs which are poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. When high heat is involved, in regard to heating cannabis, this heat produces PAHs that have not been eliminated from any study on the heated cannabis material analyzed to date (April 2019). PAHs can also be in flowers and extracts if exposed to a forest fire for example.
I can distinctly remember an outdoor crop in late 2007 of Mr. Nice that tasted like smoke when it was heated as it was exposed to smoke in the atmosphere during growth. During the webinar Dr. Russo notes a careful organic grower who had extracts flagged for too high of a PAH content that was dried with high heat using improperly ventilated propane heat.
Pesticides are a danger as related to cannabis but not due to cannabis itself. It can be totally avoided (don’t use pesticides on your crops). Pesticide use has been on the rise in recent years in California and while early on, labs were not telling the public what specific pesticides they were testing for because then growers could find rarer, harder to test and more toxic pesticides to use on their plants.
40-70% of pesticide residues appear in smoke from samples smoked thru a machine. From here Russo noted his own research from 2016 in which 26 samples were taken in Washington State and tested at a lab, 22 out of the 26 samples were with tens to hundreds of thousands of parts per billion including multiple contaminants. 24 of the 26 samples were concentrates, 2 were flowers, this is from a regulated market…. 24 distinct pesticides in every class of pesticide were found. This is not only a threat to human life but the biosphere in general as some of these are the agents responsible for bee colony collapse and decline globally.
The worst of all the samples from March of 2016 was a product called JuJu Joints in extract form that had Gross Contamination with 9 Agents 5 of which were in the tens of thousands of PPB and one at 112k PPB. Myclobuanil was found at 258 times the limit on crops it is allowed to be used on, of which cannabis isn’t one of them. The EPA has not authorized any pesticides to be used on cannabis. Russo notes that indoor cultivation is the biggest culprit for pesticide use as natural barriers are removed literally when cultivating indoors. Outdoor cultivation has the least pesticide use as the plants can take care of themselves when able to thrive in a natural environment. Greenhouse and glasshouses should utilize Integrated Pest Management to use good bugs to get rid of bad bugs along with pheromone traps and rely on an organic compost in terms of nutrients.
Dr. Russo cites himself again “Pesticide-contaminated products present a clear and present danger, particularly to young patients with epilepsy (to the point that those not presenting symptoms may begin doing so if they have an underlying tendency) and other neurological conditions. We cannot wait and watch the results of carcinogenic exposure years down the road.” Furthermore Russo calls for “Future regulation and monitoring with allowance for organic certification and employment of integrated pest management techniques without synthetic pesticides are required approaches to rectify this looming public health threat.” Earlier in the presentation Dr. Russo mentioned how Oregon has a list of organic pesticides that are authorized for use on cannabis by the State in concentrations of .1ppm which may be a similar framework to adopt in the future.
“The unregulated commerce in cannabis with respect to pesticide usage and lack of available organic certification have resulted in widespread abuse of the legal cannabis market system.” Is the first conclusion Dr. Russo draws about 29 minutes into the presentation
Other issues with pesticides is that they are cumulative and not noted until many years later. I witnessed this firsthand with an assessment at a cultivation facility. One of the folks in charge of the operation applied pesticides many years ago to other plants without protection before protection was mandated and he can no longer taste.
The following slides move into additional contaminants. Heavy Metals that can contaminate soil and bio-accumulate in cannabis are lead, mercury, cadmium & arsenic. This is a great advantage for hemp bioremediation but not when it comes to human ingestion and must be kept out of the plant as a preventative measure to protect public health. Bacteria & Fungi contamination is of particular concern to those who are immune-suppressed with HIV/AIDS or other conditions (RA, Chron’s Disease, etc). Russo notes work done by Potter in 2009 in which cannabis can be grown successfully without coliform bacterial counts over limits.
With concern over such contaminants, countries like the Netherlands and Canada require gamma-irradiation of cannabis flowers provided to patients thru their medical cannabis programs. Both researchers Hazekamp and Russo note a 10% loss of caryophyllene as this process affects terpenoid concentration. Dr. Russo notes as the final bullet on the slide that fungal growth is generally controlled via lower humidity.
From here Dr. Russo transitions to a cannabis heating discussion. He shows a slide laid out with cannabis in various phases of extraction from unheated dried cannabis to heat exposure of 175˚C, 195˚C & 230˚C on the Volcano from 2013. Heating “is the application of heat below the burning point of cannabis with the idea of not producing smoke and reducing lung irritation which it can help... Unfortunately again (this method) has not eliminated the toxic tar components such as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and particularly if the material is grown with artificial nitrogen sources there a likelihood of ammonia in the (aroma) which is a neurotoxin.
About 10 minutes into the video, the doctor made a comment stating that PAHs could be eliminated from cannabis aroma but no research to date has shown such. Follow up discussions with Dr. Russo via email did yield some information regarding PAHs and they can totally be eliminated by heating at lower temperatures using quality components and quality material. This just hasn’t been documented to date in any studies.
Negatives of smoking are cough, phlegm, bronchial irritation and upper respiratory infections. Anecdotally speaking, I haven’t noticed any of these negatives as I have been primarily heating cannabis flowers since 2004.