Researchers at the University of New Haven in Connecticut took a close look at some marijuana under their microscopes and found something disturbing: mold, invisible to the naked eye. And it has made the scientists concerned that marijuana users could unknowingly be smoking contaminants along with their weed.
Mold isn't the only thing that has been found on marijuana -- mildew, insect parts, salmonella and E.Coli are just a handful of substances that can also be found in marijuana, said Heather Miller Coyle, forensic botanist and associate professor at New Haven who was involved in the study, to The Associated Press.
Now that Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and twenty states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, Coyle is busy working on a new and faster process that will create DNA profiles of potentially harmful substances on marijuana to aid in their detection and the quality control of the plant.
Although the Department of Justice announced that it will allow Colorado and Washington's new recreational pot laws proceed, marijuana remains illegal under federal law and that means that government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration won't oversee the testing and policing of the products.
So it's up to the states to come up with a testing and certification process.
"It's important for us to do it because it's public safety and there's no U.S. FDA oversight here," said Randy Simmons, the Washington State Liquor Control Board project manager in charge of implementing Initiative 502 which legalized marijuana for recreational use, to NBC News. "Things that would be FDA rules don't exist."
Many states, including Washington and Colorado, already require quality control testing of marijuana.
"Through Colorado’s robust regulatory regime, marijuana businesses will soon be required to test their marijuana for potency and harmful contaminants such as mold, mildew, pesticides, and microbials," Michael Elliott of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group told The Huffington Post. "These new testing regimes will help protect consumer safety, and ensure that marijuana being sold through the regulated businesses is far safer than marijuana being sold through the black market."
The 136-page rule book for the retail marijuana industry in Colorado has detailed instructions regarding quality control and contaminant tests including testing for molds, mildew, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and general filth along with labeling that states the results of those tests and if they were performed.
Labels will also detail the potency of a marijuana product and the compounds that are contained therein.
"By regulating marijuana and requiring that it conform to reasonable standards we can ensure it does not present any undue harm to consumers," Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project and key backer of Colorado's marijuana legalizing Amendment 64, said to HuffPost. "It makes little sense to force marijuana into the underground market where we are virtually guaranteeing it will not be tested."
Moldy marijuana is nothing new. Back in 2009, marijuana industry blog Spark Report wrote that finding mold on marijuana is actually quite common. "Anyone who has smoked marijuana more than a couple times has most likely inhaled mold spores from marijuana," the blog states. "That may sound alarming, however its important to remember that you are likely to inhale the same or similar mold spores while taking a walk in the park. The most common type of mold, Aspergillus, occurs naturally in almost everything in nature."
But moldy marijuana can cause respiratory or other flu-like symptoms in some people with weak immune systems, Spark Report notes.
Marijuana pesticide contamination has also become a health concern as legalization has spread. HuffPost's Lynne Peeples reported that many of the chemicals applied to pot plants are intended only for lawns and other non-edibles. Medical cannabis samples collected in Los Angeles have been found to contain pesticide residues at levels 1600 times the legal digestible amount. Because the product is generally inhaled rather than eaten, any toxins it carries have an even more direct route into the lungs and blood stream.