While the state's marijuana business continues to boom, cannabis growers in Massachusetts, already facing tough business setbacks in a competitive and volatile market, are scrambling to ward off a rapidly spreading and highly infectious crop disease, one with the power to wipe out entire companies.
"It's like the tenth plague for the cannabis industry," said Peter Grinspoon, a medical cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The margins are drying up for anybody growing cannabis. They need this like they need a hole in the head. It's a nightmare."
Hop latent viroid, a plant-specific pathogenic RNA, sucks the THC potency out of cannabis plants, degrading the quality and resulting in significantly smaller yields. It's sometimes referred to as "dudding disease."
The pathogen has already blighted California's cannabis crops, resulting in $4 billion in annual losses, according to cannabis genetics research company Dark Heart Industries. The pathogen has no known effect on human health, though Grinspoon and other experts say very little research exists.
Grinspoon says the disease is causing a "total evolution" in the cannabis industry as manufacturers are forced to adopt more stringent measures to combat it. Their prevention efforts include more rigorous sanitation in grow facilities, regular lab testing, and sourcing plants from pre-tested seed or local stock — steps that come at a cost.
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