Can you be allergic to marijuana?
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People can have allergic reactions triggered by marijuana, just as they can with many other plants and pollens. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe.
In recent years, there seems to have been an increase in the number of reports of marijuana allergies. This may be because marijuana, or cannabis, is becoming more popular as a medicinal treatment for a range of conditions. Some states have also legalized the drug for recreational use.
Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, can also cause negative reactions in some people.
Read on to learn more about the causes and symptoms of marijuana allergies, and the possible effects of CBD oil.
Share on Pinterest A marijuana allergy may be triggered by eating, smoking, or touching the plant or its products.
More than 50 million Americans have allergies. While marijuana may have some medical benefits, marijuana pollen can trigger allergy symptoms in some people.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), a person can develop an allergy or allergic sensitization to marijuana after exposure to the plant. People can be exposed to cannabis allergens in the following ways:
- inhaling pollen in the air
- smoking marijuana
- touching marijuana
- eating marijuana
Research published in 2013 suggests a particular strain of cannabis called Cannabis sativa may be especially irritating.
A recent small-scale study from 2018 reports that people are more likely to have a cannabis allergy if they have allergies to cat dander, molds, dust mites, or plants.
More research is needed, however, to establish this possible link.
Common symptoms of a marijuana allergy, many of which are similar to seasonal allergy symptoms, include:
- a dry cough
- itchy eyes
- red, itchy, or watery eyes
- a runny nose
- sore or itchy throat
Handling the drug may also cause contact dermatitis, a skin reaction that can have the following symptoms:
- dry skin
- red, inflamed skin
Symptoms of marijuana allergies can come on immediately after exposure to the plant, although, in other cases, they may not begin for an hour or more.
To stop symptoms from getting worse, a person who notices these effects should immediately stop touching or smoking the drug.
Less commonly, marijuana can cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This condition can be life-threatening and occurs within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen.
Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- difficulty breathing
- itchy and flushed or pale skin
- low blood pressure
- swollen tongue or throat
- weak and rapid pulse
Anaphylaxis can result in a coma or death, so it is essential to get emergency medical attention if this reaction is suspected.
Along with anaphylaxis, the main risks linked to a marijuana allergy are that it may be linked to cross-reactivity with other allergens.
Cross-reactivity happens when the proteins, such as pollen, in the marijuana plant resemble the proteins in another plant. An allergic reaction may then occur when a person comes into contact with similar proteins elsewhere.
Foods with proteins that resemble marijuana proteins, and which may, therefore, cause an allergic reaction in people with marijuana allergies, include:
Doctors diagnose marijuana allergies in the same way as other types of allergies, by using skin tests or blood tests.
A doctor will first take a person’s medical history and perform a physical examination. They may then use a skin prick test. This test is not very invasive, and the results come back quickly.
In a skin prick test, the doctor will apply a diluted allergen, such as marijuana, to the skin’s surface with a needle. If a red bump or wheal, itching, and redness develop in that area within 15 minutes, a person may be allergic to that substance.
A doctor may also use an intradermal test. This test involves using a thin needle to inject a diluted allergen just below the skin’s surface.
Blood tests are another way of checking for marijuana allergies. A sample of blood is drawn and tested for the presence of antibodies to marijuana. If a person has more antibodies in the blood than expected, they are more likely to be allergic to marijuana.
Blood tests may be better than skin prick tests in some cases because they involve a single needle prick. They are also less likely to be affected by any other medications. However, the results take longer to come back, and the tests are more expensive than skin tests.
At present, no treatment is available for a marijuana allergy. A person can take antihistamines to manage symptoms and reduce discomfort. Antihistamines are available for purchase online.
For some types of pollen allergy, a course of allergy shots is prescribed to reduce a person’s sensitization to the substance. But these are not currently available for marijuana pollen.
Because of the lack of treatment options, those who are allergic to marijuana should avoid smoking, eating, or touching the plant or the drug to prevent allergy symptoms.
If a person has a severe allergy to marijuana, they should carry an epinephrine injection (Adrenaclick, Epipen, or others) in case of accidental exposure and subsequent anaphylaxis.
Avoiding exposure to marijuana is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction to the plant or drug.
A person who is using medical marijuana and suspects that they may be allergic to it should speak with their doctor to find an alternative treatment.
People who work in a marijuana processing plant should limit exposure by using:
- allergy medications
- face masks
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a substance that comes from the marijuana plant. Medicinal uses include treating some seizure disorders.
CBD is different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Pure CBD does not have mind-altering effects. Only THC produces these “highs.”
In contrast, CBD may have antipsychotic and anti-inflammatory properties.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one CBD-based drug, Epidiolex. This prescription-only treatment can help people who have two types of rare and severe epilepsy. The drug received approval in June 2018.
For most uses, research has not yet confirmed how safe and effective CBD- or marijuana-based products are, and there are no regulations controlling the production or sale of CBD oil and other marijuana products.
Some CBD products contain THC, but it is not always clear how much, even when there is a label.
For this reason, most consumers do not know how safe their CBD oil is, especially when used in high quantities.
A 2011 review of previous studies on CBD oil reports conflicting findings. The researchers suggest that, while long-term use and high doses up to 1,500 milligrams a day may be well tolerated by people, some adverse reactions have been observed.
At high intakes, CBD oil may cause:
- dry mouth
- interactions with other medications
- low blood pressure
A 2017 study recommends more research be carried out on the effect of CBD on certain enzymes, drug transporters, and the effects of other drugs.
Some people use CBD oil as a topical treatment for skin disorders or neurological pain. A person should try applying a small amount of the oil first, to ensure they will not experience an unwanted reaction.
In addition to Epidiolex, the FDA have also approved three drugs that contain a synthetic form of THC. Marinol and Syndros treat the severe weight loss that can occur with AIDS. Cesamet can help prevent nausea and vomiting in people who are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
As with other medications, it is possible to experience an allergic reaction to Epidiolex, Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet.
A person can develop allergies to marijuana, as with other plants. This can occur after touching, smoking, or eating cannabis products (edibles), or inhaling the pollen. Symptoms are similar to other allergies, including sneezing, a rash, and itching skin. A person can also have a reaction to cannabidiol oil or CBD.
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Share this Story: This is what happens when you’re allergic to marijuana
Although cannabis allergies were once a rarity, they are becoming more prevalent. It estimated that somewhere around 10 percent of cannabis users have some sort of sensitivity to the plant. Most of the symptoms are mild. But for some, the end result can be deadly.
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“The more people that are exposed to marijuana, the more likely we are to see allergies,” Dr. Gordon Sussman, an allergist and immunologist, told CTV News . “Marijuana allergy can potentially be very severe — potentially, it can cause life-threatening reactions just like a peanut allergy.”
Those afflicted with a cannabis allergy can experience symptoms long before the time of consumption.
Dr. Sussman says sometimes simply touching the plant or the various products derived from it can be enough to spawn an allergic reaction. Some of the most common symptoms are red and watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing. But there have been reports of people experiencing nausea and vomiting. On the more severe side, full-blown anaphylactic shock has been known to erupt. The entire situation can be quite a buzz kill.
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“Skin symptoms are generally from touching it,” Sussman said. “You can sometimes see itchy skin and hives and you can sometimes see swelling of the eye if you touch your eye after touching the marijuana plant.
“Respiratory symptoms can be nasal running and sneezing with associated itchy, watery eyes,” he added. Occasionally you’ll see wheezing, shortness of breath and asthmatic reactions. Anaphylactic symptoms generally occur with hempseed (or eating marijuana products)… Potentially, any anaphylactic event can be serious and life-threatening.”
The good news is it is easy to determine whether a person has an allergy to marijuana. A basic skin prick test at a doctor’s office should reveal whether weed poses any kind of health threat. According to Healthline, cannabis allergies can be more problematic for those people allergic to foods that contain similar attributes. So it is possible for someone with an allergy to various fruits and vegetables to be at a greater risk an allergy to weed.
If feeling strange or uncomfortable while interacting with the plant, an allergy skin prick test may be a good idea AlexRaths / iStock / Getty Images Plus Photo by AlexRaths / iStock / Getty Images Plus
There are people who could smoke 5 g a day for decades and not even flinch (they might be the majority), but then, there are those unlucky few who develop an allergic reaction to cannabis and end up giving up smoking altogether. I mean, how many wipes can you buy before you say, enough is enough? Any contact with the plant can trigger an allergic reaction:
- Smoking dried flowers
- Ingesting CBD oil
- Eating edibles
- Exposure to the plant’s pollen
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Every time an allergic person consumes marijuana in any way, shape or form, they are subjected to a different variety of symptoms, which can range from mild to potentially serious if left untreated.
Here’s how marijuana triggers allergic reactions
Marijuana allergy has been investigated in a number of clinical studies. A study published in 2013 set about to identify Cannabis Sativa allergens by testing a group of people through skin prick testing.
In their study, researchers found 17 cannabis users who tested positive for an allergic reaction to cannabis. All patients showed similar symptoms (which you can find below) but, most importantly, this study identified what exactly causes people to be allergic to weed: Peptides from enzymes connected to the plant’s primary metabolism.
For all the chemistry geeks out there, these are RuBisCO, oxygen evolving-enhancer protein, ATP synthase, phosphoglycerate kinase, and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase. Another study published in 2015 categorized cannabis allergy as something similar to fruit and vegetable allergy, therefore placing it in the “cannabis-fruit/vegetable syndrome”.
Some would say that this is minor and that a pineapple has never killed anyone. But here’s what’s important to know: The study explored various possibilities of cross-allergic reactions with tobacco, natural latex, and plant-derived alcoholic beverages. Which is pretty good to know, keeping in mind that weed is often smoked with tobacco, in blunts for example.
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If we get rid of the scientific jargon, we can see that these two studies helped us understand something very important: Marijuana allergy is very rare but when it does occur it has similar symptoms as some common food and plant allergies.
We got the plant’s role down, now we need to address another allergen that can be found in low-quality buds: Mold.
Mold can be commonly seen on weed that hasn’t been stored and cured properly. If you remember our article about weed expiration dates , moldy weed can be toxic and unsmokable, and can even cause respiratory issues. Besides being weed’s number one enemy, mold is also an enemy of the humans (it’s basically Batman vs. Joker at this point).
When you smoke moldy weed you also inhale mold spores, which can cause symptoms such as itching, runny nose, nasal congestion.
Long-term smokers can develop an intolerance
Marijuana allergy is not limited to first-time users. It can happen with long-term users as well. There is a condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)—if you’ve been smoking marijuana for a long time you’ve probably heard about it.
According to this 2011 publication by the Temple University Hospital, CHS is characterized by chronic cannabis use, cyclic episodes of nausea, vomiting, and bathing with hot water (which is a learned reaction apparently). It develops suddenly and ONLY in long-term regular smokers.
I came across an NY Mag interview of a woman who found out she has CHS. She had terrible nausea and vomiting sessions and finally, after a dozen tests, her doctor told her that she developed an intolerance to cannabis. In the end, she had to quit smoking.
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The most common marijuana allergy symptoms
All cannabis allergy symptoms usually occur 20-30 minutes after exposure to the plant. By that, I mean any kind of contact—it doesn’t matter if you smoke it, eat it, inhale pollen or even touch the plant.
But how do you know if you’re having an allergic reaction to weed?
Pretty simple, if you experience one of the following the next time you use weed, then you’re probably allergic. Here are the most common marijuana allergy symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Watery eyes
- Post-nasal drip
- Inflammation of the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling below the surface of the skin
- Gastric cramping
Take note that the intensity of these symptoms can vary, depending on the amount of cannabis you consumed. For example: An allergic person who smoked four joints can experience more itching than a person who smoked just one.
Even though marijuana allergy usually presents itself with mild symptoms, such as runny nose and watery eyes, there are some unlucky people who get the short end of the stick and get a potentially deadly reaction called anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis from smoking weed does happen: A couple of minutes after ingesting marijuana, an allergic person experiences reaction not just in one spot, but throughout their entire body, setting off a chain of physiological processes that send him into a state of shock.
Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening and should be treated ASAP with a shot of adrenaline (Epinephrine).
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Learn the signs of anaphylactic shock
Every person should learn to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis, smoker or not. It can happen with just about any allergen and it is an extremely dangerous reaction that requires immediate medical attention. If you know to recognize it, you can get help much quicker and that can save your life. According to EpiPen, these are signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis:
- Skin reactions (generalized hives, itching, swelling, reddening)
- Respiratory problems, swollen throat, and tongue
- Reduced blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting
- Vomiting, abdominal and GI cramping
If someone has these symptoms, call an ambulance right away, because that person needs urgent help. Thankfully, anaphylaxis can be resolved in a couple of minutes with a shot of adrenaline—it complements your body’s own adrenaline to reduce throat swelling, open up breathing pathways and regulate blood pressure.
How to treat marijuana allergy
So, after all of this, you’re pretty sure that you are allergic to weed? OK, first, book an appointment with your doctor. An allergist would be the best bet. They’ll do a skin test and prescribe a therapy, tailored to your symptoms. The therapy can involve either medication or completely avoiding any contact with marijuana. If your allergic reaction to weed is severe, then you need to quit smoking altogether.
However, you can always use a nasal spray and some antihistamines for treating the acute onset of mild marijuana allergy symptoms.
As things are currently, there is only a small number of reported cases of marijuana-induced allergies. But as weed becomes more and more accepted, you can bet that we’ll start seeing more people complaining about allergic reactions to the plant. The good news is: Marijuana is, in the end, a very mild allergen and can be safely consumed by 99% of users.
Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for those suffering from this ultra-sensitivity to the cannabis plant. Dr. Sussman says the only way to truly prevent a bad reaction is to avoid all things marijuana.
For those working in the cannabis industry, experts recommend, “Wearing gloves, face masks, and using allergy medication to help reduce or prevent symptoms.”
Marijuana allergy affects 1 out of every 100 users. Are you allergic to weed?