For every substance in the world, there is likely a human that is allergic. But, is ‘cannabis allergy’ possible?
Most of us have some form of an allergy. Dust or pollen might make you sneeze. Or maybe you know someone who has something more severe, like a life-threatening allergy to nuts or shellfish. But, did you know that there is such a thing as a cannabis allergy?
While reporting allergies to illegal substances is relatively uncommon, research tells us that reporting of cannabis allergies are on the rise alongside legalization. So, increasing legalization may create an environment where people who take cannabis feel more comfortable reporting an allergy.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergen is anything that causes an allergic reaction, e.g., pollen, food, medication. As an allergen enters the body, it triggers an antibody response. An antibody is a blood protein that attaches to mast cells. When allergens come into contact with antibodies, the attached mast cells release histamine, which causes typical symptoms such as:
- Excess mucus
- Difficulty breathing
Moreover, in severe cases, an allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention, as it can be fatal.
What Does A Cannabis Allergy Look Like?
Just like any allergic reaction, cannabis can produce a range of symptoms that vary depending on the form of cannabis with which a patient has come into contact. Each consumption method produces different symptoms in varying severity.
Inhaling cannabis pollen has been shown to cause:
- Allergic rhinitis
Exposure to cannabis smoke may cause:
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy throat
- Difficulty breathing
Skin contact may also be a problem, with cases describing reactions like:
Hemp seed oil ingestion has also been reported to cause:
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble speaking
How Does A Cannabis Allergy Reaction Happen?
Researchers have long suggested that cannabinoids are allergens, showing positive skin prick test reactions.
Non-specific lipid transfer proteins (nsLTPs) are a group of plant proteins that can transfer phospholipids from liposomes to mitochondria across cell membranes. LTPs are often food allergens. Studies have found that one ns-LTP, known as Can-s-3 could be an allergen. Researchers have also detected an antibody binding band that corresponds to Can-s-3 in cannabis allergy cases. Can-s-3 belongs to the pathogenesis-related protein PR-14 group, and research has shown that patients with a cannabis allergy can display distinct sensitization to Can-s-3.
Sensitivity to cannabis allergens like Can-s-3 may also trigger other “cross-allergies”. Consuming plant-derived foods causes this. Consequently, this phenomenon is known as the cannabis-fruit/vegetable syndrome.
Patients may find that in addition to cannabis allergies they also have allergic reactions to fruits or vegetables such as:
- And occasionally citrus fruits
These secondary cross-allergies seem to appear because of the presence of ns-LTPs like Can-s-3 in cannabis and fruits like apples and peaches.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome – Not an Allergy
One concerning medical phenomenon is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS).
CHS is a disorder where chronic cannabis patients suffer regular nausea and vomiting upon consumption. As a result, some patients ultimately give up cannabis altogether. On the other hand, other patients find that hot showers and spicy foods ease the symptoms.
CHS is not entirely understood, but it is thought that the opposing emetic effects of THC and CBD, in combination with chronic long-term cannabis consumption may alter how the digestive tract responds to cannabis, causing these adverse effects.
Researchers don’t believe CHS interacts through an antibody response, so it is not classified as an allergic response. But it is easy to confuse symptoms of CHS with the symptoms of severe allergic reactions to cannabis, such vomiting as a result of anaphylaxis.
What To Do?
Medical history is a vital component for evaluating a cannabis allergy.
In vitro research using IgE antibodies, histamine release assays, and basophil activation tests have been shown to accurately test for a cannabis allergy. However, this requires advanced technology and specialist labs that aren’t easily accessible.
Additionally, cannabis skin tests could also be a promising diagnostic test.
Firstly, avoidance of cannabis is the number one recommendation for those who are allergic to cannabis. However, there are some other options available if you can’t avoid it.
Allergic rhinoconjunctivitis can be treated with:
- Intranasal steroids
- Nasal decongestants
Asthma may be treated with:
- Inhaled corticosteroid
While prohibition has limited our knowledge of cannabis allergies and how they work, science is now starting to understand how serious it is. Through the Can-s-3 sn-LTP, people may experience a reaction to cannabis resulting in hives, asthma, sneezing, anaphylaxis, or even an allergy to fruits and vegetables.
Hopefully these treatments are available to you. But it is essential to consult your doctor if you suspect that you might have a cannabis allergy.