Carrying EpiPens for life-threatening allergic reactions will make you an expert regardless of your desire not to be an expert. And for the record I also consume cannabis medicinally. Today I’m going to address the issue of allergies to cannabis and hemp. And I’m not a doctor, of course not. But, I do have an interesting story to illustrate the issues that many patients with legitimate allergies face:
A couple of years ago during a concert, Roger Daltrey the musician, threatened to leave the stage of his performance in New York because he claims that he is allergic to cannabis and this affects his throat and singing voice. The band was serious enough about warning the audience of this condition that they ran informational slides before the show asking people not to toke up near the stage while Daltrey performed.
Commentary provided by Philip Cosores at Radio.com on the matter revealed the typical ignorance allergy patients experience on a daily basis about the biological mechanisms of allergies and thereby reduced the seriousness of the situation to a mere “preference” or “getting used to” whatever someone may be “allergic” to:
“Over the course of The Who’s 50 years as a band, you’d think frontman Roger Daltrey would have built up a tolerance to cannabis smoke.”
First of all, let’s understand what allergies actually are: Allergies are not a self-diagnosed or imaginary condition that people can “say” they have, they are an immune system disorder that is mediated by IgE antibodies. Nothing more, and nothing less. And there is nothing new at all about humans developing allergies to the cannabis plant or parts of the cannabis plant.
My doctor told me years ago that the human immune system does “whatever the hell it wants to.” Today it’s making IgE to attach to your mast cells because you drank some milk, and tomorrow it does it again and you don’t survive the chocolate milkshake. At any time, for any substance, food, perfume, soap, plants, animals, anything–if you are prone to this immune system dysfunction, you could be unlucky enough to develop a true IgE reaction to all or part of the cannabis plant.
Now, whether or not Roger Daltrey has a true IgE mediated Type 1 sensitivity (otherwise known as an allergy) to cannabis is something only he and his doctor know for sure via allergy testing. But, I can tell you from my perspective as an anaphylactic allergy patient, when I hear the words “my throat is closing up and my voice changes” it sends a chill up my spine because I have choked on food and I have had my throat close up and not be able to breathe. Roger Daltrey’s description of what happens to him when exposed to cannabis sounds quite legitimate, and not like someone who has a “preference” and ends up being a “buzz kill” for his fans.
But here’s something we can be certain about when it comes to allergies and cannabis: It’s rare. Cannabis allergies are one of the rare ones. If you are going to develop allergies, chances are you will develop the same allergies that 90% of other people have–the mild stuff like spring pollen, or the ones associated with more injury and death like eggs, shellfish or peanuts. It’s highly unlikely that you or anyone you know will ever be allergic to the cannabis plant–and in fact most people that demonstrate allergic symptoms while using cannabis are reacting to a more common allergic substance: mold.
Mold, pollens from other plants and chemicals are more likely to be the culprit with allergic reactions that appear to come from parts of the cannabis plant, seeds or flowers. Hulled culinary cannabis seeds have a real affinity for growing mold as do improperly grown and cured cannabis flowers. This is why allergy testing with your doctor is really important to ascertain the exact substances that you are allergic to. If you react to mold on cannabis plants, you are going to react to mold elsewhere in the environment and it’s important for you health to find that out–and only a doctor with MD after their name can provide access to the correct testing that will save your life in an emergency.
I know what it’s like to have a very rare food allergy. My allergy to yeast is one of the allergens I carry an EpiPen for. Saccharomyces allergy is at least as rare, if not more rare than cannabis allergies. It’s also a lot harder to manage because this yeast species is everywhere and in everything, including the air I breathe. (I deploy medical grade air filtration in my home.) Almost all processed foods contain this species of yeast for flavoring, spice mixes, vegan foods, beer, wine, cheese, grapes, and more!
When it comes to allergies, as allergy patients who carry epinephrine pens understand, it’s the management of the allergy, more than the allergy itself, that is the biggest concern. It’s easy to manage my egg allergy, which is the most deadly one, in my case. I don’t eat eggs. Yeast and agricultural molds are much more difficult because they involve layers and steps to ensure that food is safe. Cannabis allergies are real, rare, and easily managed, and those are the facts.
Roger Daltrey is wise to avoid the source of his allergies, and educate his audience about his health needs so that he can perform to the best of his ability. Let’s not make it harder for allergy patients to manage our illnesses by exposing us purposely to a substance that will cause an immune system reaction that we have no control over. We don’t get to choose what we are allergic to, and we simply ask that you not choose to damage our health or end our lives prematurely by acting selfishly or acting out of ignorance, as if we have some sort of choice or preference when it comes to our defective immune system responses.