Can You Be Allergic to Marijuana?

More and more states are legalizing cannabis saliva, or marijuana. As its use as a recreational drug becomes increasingly popular, we need to understand the associated health risks. Let’s look at the data on the likelihood of cannabis contributing to asthma and allergies.

Though cannabis can be consumed in many ways, smoking it is still the most common method. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, smoke from cigarettes can cause and trigger respiratory problems such as asthma and COPD. Also, secondhand smoke can cause problems in people exposed to it, especially children with asthma.

[SEE: Are Marijuana Edibles Safe?]

Here are answers to some common questions:

What do we know about marijuana smoking and asthma? Is there a link? Well, we know that frequent marijuana smoking may produce symptoms of cough, mucus production and wheezing. For anyone with asthma, marijuana smoke, like any other smoke, can irritate the lungs and trigger or worsen a flare-up. There are case reports of secondhand marijuana smoke producing asthma flare-ups in children with asthma.

Does cannabis cause asthma? Currently, we don’t know if smoking marijuana leads to asthma. It can damage the lining of the lungs and contribute to inflammation in the airways. Also, there are reports showing that marijuana smoking may lead to abnormal airspaces in the lungs. These can rupture and result in a collapsed lung called pneumothorax, which can be life-threatening. You may have heard that medicinal marijuana given orally can help asthma, but there are no rigorous scientific studies to determine if it’s beneficial and safe.

[SEE: What Parents Can Do About Teens Vaping.]

Can you be allergic to cannabis? The answer is yes. You can develop an allergy to the pollen and other proteins in the marijuana plant just like you can to pollen from trees and grasses. Allergic reactions can occur not only from smoking marijuana, but also from oral ingestion and from contact with your skin. It’s estimated that up to 10% of people using marijuana may have an allergy to it. Symptoms associated with marijuana allergy are the typical ones that we see with other allergies: sneezing, nasal and eye itching, nasal congestion and runny nose. Lung problems like wheezing can be seen, too. Handling marijuana can produce itching, hives and other skin rashes in people who have a sensitivity.

When you eat a product that contains marijuana, there can be gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea. In very rare cases, a severe life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can occur. Several foods, such as bananas, almonds, tomatoes, peaches and citrus fruits, have cross-reacting allergens with marijuana. This means that people with marijuana allergy may see an allergic reaction called oral allergy syndrome when eating these foods.

Use of cannabidiol, or CBD, oil is very popular. CBD oil does not contain the substances that cause the euphoric effects seen with marijuana use. And while it’s thought to be helpful in many medical conditions, there is little scientific proof at this time. But CBD oil can trigger allergic reactions in people with marijuana allergy, as it may contain the allergens from the marijuana plant.

[SEE: How to Buy CBD.]

How do you determine if you have a marijuana allergy? Right now, there are no standard allergy skin tests, as there are legal limitations in obtaining marijuana extracts. Check with a board-certified allergist if you believe you may be allergic to marijuana. Currently, the only treatment for marijuana allergy is avoidance. You may need to carry an epinephrine auto injector if your allergist thinks you have a risk of anaphylaxis. In the future, there may be immunotherapy that could lead to a cure for this allergy, but it’s not yet available.

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