Can You Be Allergic to Marijuana?

by Haley Mills · December 16, 2022

Can You Be Allergic to Marijuana? Many people are curious about whether or not they can be allergic to marijuana.

Can You Be Allergic to Weed? Many people are curious about whether or not they can be allergic to marijuana.

Around fifty million Americans experience allergic reactions to various substances annually, and about thirty-six million of those people also experience a reaction to smoked marijuana. The cannabis plant is a pollen-bearing plant that can produce allergens that trigger an allergic reaction in some people and animals.

It is unclear exactly how many people in the U.S. are allergic to cannabis. Still, as a growing number of states legalize marijuana use, there will surely be more research on the potential for allergic reactions from marijuana.

Recently, there seems to have been an increase in reports of CBD and THC allergies, possibly because it is becoming more popular as a treatment for various medical conditions. Some states have even legalized marijuana for recreational use.

This article explains the symptoms of cannabis allergies, which can differ depending on various factors. Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of marijuana allergies.

What is a marijuana allergy?

It is possible to develop a cannabis allergy, and the most common allergic reaction comes from cannabis pollen, similar to hay fever. The pollen of cannabis plants can cause the immune system to attack foreign material, causing a severe allergic reaction.

A marijuana allergy is similar to other allergy triggers and can cause an adverse immune response when using cannabis products, especially when smoking. Though rare, there have also been a small number of anaphylaxis cases due to an allergic reaction from a marijuana plant.

Recently, there have been more reports of marijuana allergy; however, this is primarily due to the expansion of legalization across the United States.

Marijuana Allergy Symptoms

The most common symptoms of marijuana allergy are mild allergic reactions, but they can be severe in people with significant cannabis allergies. Many marijuana allergy symptoms occur right away in adults; however, onset can be delayed for several hours.

While it is rare, it is possible to experience severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis after exposure to recreational or medical cannabis allergens. It’s essential to recognize your symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if you suspect an allergic reaction.

The most common signs of a Cannabis Sativa allergy are:
  • Itchy, red, swollen, or runny eyes
  • Dry cough or wheezing
  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea 
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Respiratory Symptoms
  • Anaphylaxis (extreme allergy) 

Cannabis Allergy Causes

The body’s immune system is to blame for all allergies, including a cannabis allergy. Our immune system is responsible for protecting the body from harmful germs, so it defends itself by releasing proteins called antibodies when it detects something dangerous. Antibodies’ job is to release chemicals that trigger symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and fever, which are intended to assist in clearing it from the system. When the immune system overreacts to certain substances, this will trigger an allergic reaction. 

It’s vital to remember that if you have specific allergies, you may have an allergic reaction to weed. Marijuana use has also been associated with developing allergies to cat dander, dust mites, mold, and other plants.

Is Indica or Sativa worse for allergies?

The cannabis plant has two major types: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. While these two kinds of plants are both members of the cannabis family, they differ in appearance and chemical composition.

The indica and sativa plants tend to produce very high amounts of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, which is one of the reasons they are so widely cultivated. Both indica and sativa plants are parents to many hybrids that have their own unique properties.

Cannabis Sativa is said to trigger marijuana allergies significantly more than Indica. This could be due to the type and amount of pollen and the origin locations of each cannabis plant.

Potential Health Risks

A marijuana allergy can cross-react with other specific foods allergens. Anaphylaxis and cross-reactivity are listed as two of the primary associated risks linked to a marijuana allergy. Cross-reactivity happens when the plant’s pollen proteins mimic another plant’s proteins and can cause an allergic reaction when the body comes in contact with similar proteins.

Foods that can resemble marijuana proteins include:

  • almonds
  • apples
  • bananas
  • chestnuts
  • eggplant
  • grapefruit
  • peaches
  • tomatoes

Types of Allergy Reactions

Marijuana allergy symptoms may include many clinical aspects depending on how, when, and where a patient was exposed. Contact with or touching a cannabis plant can cause someone allergic to break out in hives and rashes or experience significant swelling in the body, called angioedema.

Inhaling weed allergens can result in moderate nasal or eye allergy symptoms, including respiratory symptoms, runny nose, sneezing, itching, swelling, and watery eyes. More severe symptoms include asthma (wheezing and shortness of breath) and Anaphylactic shock, especially when eating hemp seeds.

In addition, cross-reactivity with certain foods can potentially cause severe allergic reactions. The critical and relevant allergens and their reactions still need to be further researched and defined.

How to Diagnose A Weed Allergy

Because medical or recreational marijuana is not legal in many U.S. states, it can be challenging for a doctor to diagnose a marijuana allergy clinically. In legal states, it is possible to complete provocation testing involving exposure to the plant and treating symptoms in the physician’s office.

An allergist can also topically apply a small amount to the skin to observe for an allergic reaction. With the increased use of marijuana as medicine, many are hopeful that more testing will be available in the future.

What is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)?

Regular cannabis users can experience a disorder known as Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. CHS is a medical condition that can cause repeated and severe bouts of vomiting when using marijuana. It is infrequent, but we encourage caution when using weed on a long-term scale.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome symptoms typically occur in the prodromal phase, the hyperemesis phase, and the recovery phase.

During the prodromal phase, patients can experience nausea and abdominal pain lasting for several months.

During the hyperemesis phase, more severe symptoms may occur, such as:

  • Recurring nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Decreased food intake
  • Significant weight loss
  • Signs of dehydration

During the recovery phase, Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome symptoms will usually ease or go away completely on their own; however, they may come back if you begin using marijuana again. 

Treatment Options for Marijuana Allergy

There is currently no marijuana allergy treatment for cannabis users specifically, but you can take antihistamines to manage and reduce symptoms. For many types of pollen allergy, allergy shots are prescribed to reduce sensitization, but they are not currently available for marijuana pollen.

Since there aren’t many treatment options, those with allergies should avoid marijuana plants and the drug to prevent the onset of symptoms. A patient with a severe allergy should carry an epinephrine injection to combat accidental exposure and anaphylaxis. Medical marijuana patients who suspect they may be allergic should consult their doctor to find an alternative treatment or consumption method.

Is it safe for people with Asthma to use cannabis?

Many people with asthma smoke or vape cannabis, which could harm the lungs and airways, especially in younger people. In a recent PEACE survey, around 53 percent of cannabis users with asthma smoked, while approximately 35 percent vaped. About half of the reported cannabis smokers with asthma had uncontrolled asthma symptoms.

It isn’t recommended that people with asthma smoke or vape cannabis because it can increase cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and even an asthma attack or flare-up. However, there may be potential therapeutic benefits for asthma using other consumption methods such as edibles, tinctures, and topicals. 

These routes of administration may be safer since they don’t harm the lungs the way inhaled consumption does. Asthma patients who are exposed to secondhand cannabis smoke could suffer from an allergic reaction as well. 

Final Thoughts

Most patients with marijuana allergy symptoms have a mild to moderate reaction similar to seasonal allergies or mild allergic skin reactions. When people often avoid the plant and its pollen, the symptoms resolve relatively quickly. Those severely allergic to marijuana should seek medical treatment and carry allergy medications in case of accidental exposure.

Last Updated: December 16, 2022

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