WEST HAVEN, Conn. – The microscope at the University of New Haven, set at 10-times magnification, shows a marijuana leaf covered with dozens of tiny bumps. It’s mold, and someone, somewhere could be smoking similarly contaminated pot and not have a clue.
Heather Miller Coyle, a forensic botanist and associate professor at the university, says all sorts of nasty things not visible to the naked eye have been found in marijuana – mold, mildew, insect parts, salmonella and E. coli.
That’s why Coyle and her students earlier this year began developing a new process to detect contaminants in marijuana through DNA profiling and analysis. The aim is to be able to identify potentially harmful substances through a testing method that could make the analysis easier and quicker for labs across the country in the developing industry of marijuana quality control testing.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., now allow medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation, and Washington state and Colorado have legalized recreational pot use.
Connecticut and Washington state already require testing and other states are doing the same, spawning a testing industry.
If there’s no certification ... it’s like saying we don’t check our meat for mad cow disease, Coyle said. That’s our goal as a private university, to develop the tools to address or mediate this issue.
Food and Drug Administration records from 1997 to 2005 show no cases in which marijuana was the primary suspected cause of death, but the drug was listed as a secondary suspected cause contributing to 279 deaths.
One study released this year found that pesticide residues on cannabis are transferred to inhaled marijuana smoke, possibly posing a significant toxicological threat. The study was done by The Werc Shop, an independent testing lab for medical cannabis in Pasadena, Calif., and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Toxicology.
Marijuana can develop mold from an inadequate drying process or poor storage conditions after harvesting. It can become tainted with E. coli and other dangerous substances by being near farm animals.