The term “pesticide” covers a wide range of chemicals, oils, and products used in agriculture to prevent or treat pest infestations that can kill plants, destroy a harvest, and ruin the livelihood of farmers.
The potential harm of pesticides varies from hazardous for human exposure to relatively benign for the average consumer. Some common pesticides, such as Myclobutanil, decompose into poisonous chemicals like hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide when heated to high temperatures. Yikes.
Pesticides that are deemed Organic, non-toxic, and “food safe” can still pose a threat to your health when applied to cannabis during the flowering stage, especially if they are then concentrated in the cannabis product that you inhale. Neem oil, for instance, is a Certified Organic pesticide that some consumers believe could be cause of cannabis hyperemesis and other symptoms for vulnerable groups. Though this claim is actively debated. So what’s the take away here? Pesticides must be used with great caution and extreme intention. When used correctly, natural and organic pesticides will not pass through to the oil. With great power comes great responsibility.
Even if you don’t care much about pesticides in your food it is worth considering the potential consequences of pesticide inhalation. Your gastrointestinal tract does a much better job than your lungs to filter out toxins and harmful agents. When you inhale pesticides they pass directly through the alveoli in your lungs to your bloodstream and brain. This is why pesticides in cannabis are a really big deal.
If you care about pesticides in your cannabis flower, you should care about them even more in your concentrates like vape pens and dabs. If there are pesticides present in the flower the only way to effectively remove the vast majority of pesticides is through chromatography and isolation. If you want a product that has full-spectrum, Entourage Effect goodness, you can’t remove the pesticides. You have to start with flower that doesn’t have pesticides.
One more note about the unique nature of pesticides and cannabis. The plant Cannabis Sativa is extraordinary for many reasons, but among its fantastic traits is the fact that it helps clean the Earth through the soil in which it grows. Hemp, which is cannabis with near-zero THC, is used to regenerate contaminated soil by removing harmful agents and giving back to the earth. Unfortunately, that means the harmful agents end up in the plant itself. So if cannabis is grown in a dirty environment, it is reflected in the chemistry of the plant.
You may be thinking, if pesticides are so bad, why do farmers use them at all? Are they necessary?
Several factors contribute to the relatively high use of pesticides, including illegal pesticides, in markets like Washington State. The extremely high level of competition and low margins drive some producers to use pesticides as a method of protection. Lack of awareness and/or lack of demand for clean products on the part of consumers and budtenders also fuels the use of dangerous chemicals in production. Finally, a state testing system that does not require pesticide testing of any products enables an industry to revert to dirty techniques of pest management.
Fortunately, pesticide use is not necessary to grow beautiful cannabis flowers. Many companies in Washington, including growers that Heylo partners with, grow cannabis without the use of pesticides. These farms include Washington Bud Company, Cascade Gnome, Sustainnabis, Trail Blazin’, Craft Cannabis and Eagle Trees. Most of these farms introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs to manage pests without any chemicals.
Not all pesticides are created equal, and small amounts of certain pesticides may not pose a threat to your health. When consuming a product a hug the farm and processor that handled a given product
Some products that are grown without pesticides may still show residual pesticides in quality assurance tests. These could come from a variety of sources, including drift, fertilizers, top soil, or the plant’s parent.
If the product packaging mentions that the product is tested for pesticides, that’s a great sign.
In much of the United States, including Washington State, the answer is no. In the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s (LCB) own random retail shelf pesticide tests they have identified up to 40% of products that fail. Retailers have started taking things into their own hands to draw attention to this crisis and clean up their shelves. In Seattle, Uncle Ike’s, a large retailer, has launched the “Ike’s OK” program and is randomly testing flower and concentrates on their shelves. They immediately began identifying nasty agents like Eagle 20 in their products and began pulling them from their shelves.
In Washington testing for pesticides is entirely at the discretion of the grower/processor, so if the packaging mentions that the product is tested for pesticides, that’s a great sign. Look for words like “pesticide free” and “chemical free”. Ask your budtender for pesticide tested product and ask for the pesticide results. In Washington the ultimate standard is Department of Health (DOH) certified, which includes testing for heavy metals. Washington Bud Company and Trail Blazin’ both go the extra mile to obtain this certification for their products, like Sky Master (Washington Bud Company) and Dutch-47 (Trail Blazin’). Heylo works with these family-run farms and we pesticide test all products we put on the market.
Knowing the company you buy a product from goes a long way. Look into their growing/sourcing and extraction process. Do they appear to value a clean product? Do they test for pesticides? Are they transparent with test results? If the product appears to be an exceptional value, could it be a sign the grower or processor may has cut corners and is delivering something at retail that could compromise your health? In cannabis, everything comes at a cost.
*Heylo Cannabis processes full-bud, pesticide-free flower that is sustainably grown.