Pesticides, heavy metals and more: what is into cannabis inflorescences grown in Italy?

Italy has often been the subject of studies abroad attracted by the phenomenon of Cannabis Light, an involuntary legalization of smokable hemp flowers. In relation to this sector, there has been an increase in the number of jobs, related professional skills, knowledge on the subject, and associations which attempt to represent and regulate a space that is as new as it is left in disarray by the state. Without taking into account that the absence of regulations results in the absence of protections for the consumer who legally makes improper use of them.

The Department of Environment and Health, Higher Institute of Health, in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Technologies, Pasteur Institute - Cenci Bolognetti Foundation, "Sapienza" University of Rome and Department of Environmental Biology, "Sapienza" University of Rome, has recently published research developed by G. Amendola et al. titled "Toxicological aspects of the levels of cannabinoids, pesticides and metals detected in cannabis inflorescences grown in Italy."

From 2016 to today, the evolution of the sector and the increase in the sales of cannabis light and derivatives has been observed exponentially; from the peak of 300% during the 2020 lockdown, the values ​​have steadily grown and show no sign of decreasing.

According to the research, this happened because "cannabis light (...) was encouraged for its industrial and therapeutic potential and this increased the consumption". Unfortunately, however, "cannabis inflorescences are not subject to EU regulations and standards like food and tobacco products" and this leads to a lack of control over substances that compromise the benefits that can be drawn from the plant phytocomplex.

"The study was conducted on thirty-one samples of inflorescences, collected in different Italian regions, in order to determine cannabinoids, pesticides, and metals and to assess consumer exposure to contaminants and ensure safe consumption."

Law 242/16 has launched a market (thc limit 0.2%) without defining the specifications for the commercial category so that at the time of sale it often becomes a "collector's product" which falls under Presidential Decree 309/90 (thc limit 0, 5%). The sample analyzed by the study "THC contents were always less than 0.5%, while CBD varied between 0.3 and 8.64%."

The Italian soils are coveted as rich in nutrients and a particularly favorable climate, which has allowed the peninsula to make a difference in the history of textiles and in the current light cannabis market. The fame of Italian productions and the phytoremediation properties of hemp are however undermined by the presence of high levels of pollutants, heavy metals, and pesticides that inevitably pass from the root system to the appendages, leaves, and inflorescences.

"The determination of 154 pesticides showed that 87% of the samples contained fungicides and insecticides in the 0.01-185 μg / g range. The most found were spinosad and cyprodinil."

"The concentration of metals ranged from 1 to more than 100 μg / g and As, Cd, Co, Cr, Hg, Cu, Mo, Ni, and V exceeded US regulatory limits for inhaled cannabis products, while Pb has exceeded both orally and by inhaled products. These contaminants are inherently toxic and can have public health effects. "

In conclusion, the study highlighted the aspect that often worries ethical producers and trade associations in an attempt to regulate the sector, namely the need to "establish regulatory measures and reduce the negative effects caused by contaminants in Cannabis."


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