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Daily News Blog

10
Sep

Pesticides and Heavy Metals Found in Blunt (Cigar) Wrappers, Cellulose-Based Rolling Papers, and other Plant-based Rolling Paper Products

(Beyond Pesticides, September 10, 2020) A new analysis by Science of Cannabis Laboratories Inc. (SC Labs) finds detectable concentrations of pesticides and heavy metals in rolling papers, with hemp/blunt wraps and cellulose-based rolling papers containing the highest levels of contaminants. The analysis follows a SC Labs’ finding of high levels of chlorpyrifos—a neurotoxic, organophosphate insecticide—in the rolling paper of pre-rolled cannabis, which was undergoing compliance testing. Although the rolling paper regulations generally track standards for toxic tobacco products (which means there is very little meaningful regulation), the rolling paper use with cannabis may add an addition layer of scrutiny since some statewide cannabis regulations and independent certifications adhere to stricter guidelines similar to organic practices. Researchers note the goals of the experiment “were to assess the exposure risks to the consumer as well as identify any potential liabilities for cannabis producers who use these products to make their pre-roll products.”

This report, and others like it, are significant as cannabis use expands in in the U.S. and around the world, and given that one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis product is as a rolled cigarette. Study author and president of SC Labs Josh Wurzer, Ph.D., said, “This [issue] is something that cannabis and paper manufacturers should be aware of. If those paper manufacturers are selling to people in the cannabis industry who use their papers, then they need to pay more attention to their quality control.”

The use of rolling paper products has been around since the early 1500s, with the foremost commercial producer of rolling papers, Pay-Pay, forming in 1703. In the U.S., the 20th century saw an increase in rolling paper sales as rolling paper products presented an inexpensive, convenient way to consume increasingly popular vices, such as tobacco cigarettes and cannabis. However, rolling paper regulations are sparse compared to other areas of the tobacco and cannabis industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates tobacco by evaluating “new tobacco products based on a public health standard that considers the risks and benefits of the tobacco product to the population as a whole, including users and nonusers.” Additionally, local governments in states where cannabis is legal, such as California, monitor and inspect hemp-based products before retail distribution. FDA regulates rolling papers as “tobacco products,” only requiring companies to disclose all ingredients to gain agency approval. However, cannabis presents a growing market for rolling papers that advocates say must be regulated on par with that of lab-tested cannabis.

In response to previous lab findings of pesticide contamination in rolling papers, researchers investigated chemical contamination frequency and concentration level in 118 rolling paper products, including rolling papers, cone papers, and blunt wraps made of rice, hemp, or cellulose, in Santa Cruz, California. Further classification of rolling paper products distinguished four different categories: standard rolling paper, pre-rolled cone paper, hemp or blunt wrap, or cellulose-based paper. To detect the presence of chemical contamination in rolling paper samples, researchers used gas and liquid chromatography, testing for 66 pesticides, five mycotoxins, and four heavy metals (lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury). All completed tests were within the scope of the laboratory’s accreditation and followed specific mandates set by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), requiring lab-testing for all cannabis products.

According to the study, 90 percent of all rolling paper products contain at least one heavy metal, with eight percent containing heavy metal concentrations above California’s legal allowable limits for inhalable cannabis products. Lead detection surpasses all other metals present in the samples by a substantial perimeter. Furthermore, 16 percent of all tested rolling paper samples are positive for pesticides, with five percent above California’s legal allowable limits for inhalable cannabis products. Although only 11 percent of all rolling paper samples test positive for chemical contaminations levels above the California legal limits, 44 percent of those positives contain levels at least double, or several folds higher than the California legal limit. Regarding rolling paper categories, standard rolling papers have the lowest level of contaminants, overall, with blunt wraps and cellulose-based paper having the highest level of pesticide and heavy metal contamination, respectively.

Rolling papers, such as blunt wraps, cellulose-based paper, hemp paper, and other plant-derived smoking products, have various uses—from controlling the burn and ash rate of smokable herbs and plants to acting as combustible cartridges in rifles and revolvers for warfare reenactments. However, only 2-4% of American smokers currently use rolling papers to roll tobacco cigarettes, with many opting to buy factory-rolled or “tailormade” cigarettes for convenience. Instead, rolling paper use is more closely associated with the cannabis industry as one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis for several decades. As more states legalize cannabis across the U.S., many implement chemical restrictions or residue enforcement levels.  However, EPA has not evaluated the safety of any pesticide for cannabis production, nor has it set pesticide tolerances (allowed residues)—thus rendering pesticide use on cannabis crops illegal. Instead, states like California set their own residue enforcement levels and are shifting the cannabis industry toward organic-like practices, examining the use of pesticides and solvents via laboratory testing, and permitting mostly minimum risk pesticides.

More recently, organic cannabis has been growing in popularity, especially for its environmental and health benefits associated with excluding pesticide use. Rolling papers, on the other hand, do not undergo the same laboratory testing as cannabis. As statewide legalization of cannabis continues, and state-specific programs require cannabis industry regulations to align with federal organic requirements, advocates say that it is essential to ensure that the integrity of the finish cannabis products that are consumed are not compromised.  

Of the rolling paper products tested in the study, blunt wraps and cellulose-based papers have the highest level of contamination. Standard rolling papers have the lowest levels of contamination. Cellulose-based rolling papers are translucent paper made of water, glycerin, and cellophane from naturally derived cellulose from plant material, and results from the study show that these papers contain high levels of lead. Some cellulose papers have lead levels 100-fold higher than allowable levels. Although contamination levels are lowest for standard rolling paper made from wood pulp, there are still detectable levels of lead. Lead exposure can lead to nervous system and brain damage, psychological disorders, reproductive dysfunction, with children under six years more vulnerable to lead poisoning, causing severe mental and physical developmental delays. The study notes, “it is not surprising to find a prevalence of heavy metals detected in the rolling paper products,” as materials commonly used to manufacture rolling papers naturally accumulate metals contaminants. However, pesticides’ presence in rolling papers raises some alarm due to their growing ubiquitous use in agriculture compared to heavy metals.

Most blunt wraps, like cigars, incorporate tobacco grounds wrapped in a tobacco leaf. However, manufacturers of these tobacco products usually use chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides in their production and processing. This fact is evident as researchers detect the presence of both cypermethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, and chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide, in the blunt wrap samples. Cypermethrin has a plethora of adverse health impacts, including endocrine disruption, reproductive dysfunction, neurotoxicity, kidney/liver damage, birth defects, learning disabilities, possible cancer, and is toxic to bees and aquatic organisms. Chlorpyrifos is concerning as it is neurotoxic to children and has links to other adverse effects, such as endocrine disruption, kidney/liver damage, and lung cancer. Additional chlorpyrifos concerns include various environmental impacts, like groundwater contamination and toxicity to birds, bees, and aquatic organisms. Although U.S. pesticide manufacturer Corteva (formerly DowDupont) will stop chlorpyrifos production at the end of 2020, generic manufacturing of the chemical will continue. Cypermethrin remains available for commercial use in industrial, agricultural, and residential settings. With both chemicals commercially available for use, especially in agriculture, it is essential to monitor chemical treatments on crops, including those that produce rolling papers.

Although organic alternatives to blunt wraps exist, like organic cigarettes, organic blunts contain tobacco, which has nicotine, an addictive and potentially cancer-causing chemical. Even organic cigarette brands like American Spirit, which pride themselves on containing no additives, may have higher levels of nicotine than chemical-intensive brands. Regardless of the absence of pesticides and tobacco, high concentrations of nitrosamines, carcinogenic toxins created during the fermentation process, and other toxins can remain. Additionally, blunt wrappers are more porous than standard rolling papers, resulting in smoke inhalation with higher concentrations of toxins. Although detectable levels of contaminants in rolling paper products are not frequenting alarming levels yet, legalization will increase demand for products like pre-rolled joints and blunts, which are convenient for the many cannabis consumers. Lack of proper contaminant monitoring of rolling paper products can put consumers at risk, especially those who consume cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Rolling paper products have a long history in the U.S., most closely associated with tobacco use and regulations. However, as the market expands for rolling paper products, new uses develop, signifying a need for updated rolling paper regulations. Although laboratory testing on par with that of cannabis can help ensure quality rolling paper products, the current scheme of spot testing is not a long-term solution to problems of pesticide contamination in cannabis production. A comprehensive solution is need to ensure that rolling paper manufacturers do not replace some toxic ingredients with equally hazardous compounds.

Beyond Pesticides maintains that consumers, workers, and the environment would benefit from universal organic standards for the cannabis industry, including products used in conjunction with cannabis. Most cannabis products that many individuals are using are for medicinal purposes, and consumers are typically inhaling without any filtration. States must promote rigorous production standards and Beyond Pesticides recommends that states establish laws and/or regulations that mandate an organic systems approach to produce cannabis and cannabis consuming products. While “organic” labeling is welcome, states should require all cannabis and rolling paper product manufacturers to follow Ocal production standards, or follow the dictates of national organic soil management standards. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits, which eliminate the need for chemical-intensive agricultural practices. Furthermore, buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in agriculture and the environment. For more information on how organic is the right choice for both consumers and the farmworkers who grow our food, see Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture. Read more about Beyond Pesticides’ coverage of cannabis and pesticides here and at its Daily News archival page on the topic. For more background, see Pushing for Organic Cannabis as Industry Grows and Pesticide Use in Marijuana Production: Safety Issues and Sustainable Options. Also see Spotting the Hackers of Hemp.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: SC Labs, Leafly

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