Pollen allergies are very common. Whether from flowers, trees or ragweed, the pollen they produce are known to affect people’s skin and respiratory systems. Just as cannabis flowers produce pollen, it is also possible to be allergic to cannabis.
Due to limited research on the topic, it is hard to know exactly how common, or deadly, the allergy is. With some reporting cannabis allergies to effect 1 in 100 people, others say that milder allergies may be present in as much as 10% of the population (Petkovich: 2018, Adams: 2019). And these allergic reactions have varied from mild symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes and a sore throat, to anaphylaxis (Stadtmauer et al.: 2003).
This in mind, how do you know if you’re allergic to cannabis? As other substances are usually smoked alongside cannabis such as tobacco and mold, it is often difficult to know whether an allergy is from the cannabis itself, or one of the substances it is consumed with. This means that, although cannabis sativa allergens are known to exist, it is hard to know when they cause allergic reactions. This uncertainty is made worse when considering legal restrictions on the usage and testing of cannabis, as well as how the social stigma from using it may prevent patients from communicating symptoms to health providers (Coughlin: 2018).
This confusion also shows that it is difficult to understand exactly how allergies to cannabis work, and what their long-term effects are. For example, a recent small-scale study from 2018 reports that smoking cannabis may stimulate the development of allergies to mold, dust mites and plants (Min et al.: 2017). Yet, as its results are based on correlational findings alone (the participants were not measured over time for development of certain allergies relative to cannabis usage), they are inconclusive and simply hint at a possible explanation.
More general knowledge on allergens however, shows that an allergy to cannabis may be linked to cross-activity with other allergens too. This happens when proteins, like pollen, share similarities with those found in another plant, and so stimulate similar reactions. This in mind, foods with proteins similar to those in cannabis may be more likely to cause allergic reactions in people with an allergy to marijuana and vice versa. These include almonds, apples, bananas, chestnuts and tomatoes (Westphalen: 2018).
As with other allergies, treatments for reactions to cannabis are limited. Antihistamines are therefore typically recommended for milder symptoms, and epinephrine injections (Adrenaclick, Epipen etc.) for more adverse symptoms. Although there are allergy shots available for some types of pollen, they do not yet exist for cannabis due to a lack of research. Therefore, unless any of these treatments are available for someone with an allergy to cannabis, it is generally recommended that they avoid smoking, eating and touching the plant (ibid.).
To conclude, just like with other plants that produce pollen, it is possible to be allergic to cannabis. Symptoms of an allergy to the plant seem to be similar to other food allergies. However, due to legal restrictions on its research and social stigma, knowledge of its exact causes and long-term effects, as well as treatments, are limited.
Luke Petkovich, thegrowthop.com
Stadtmauer et al., Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Min et al.: sciencedirect.com