The first scientific study of cannabis hash sold on the streets of Madrid reveals that the vast majority contains traces of bacteria from human feces, and poses a serious health risk to those who smoke it.
“Overall, our results showed that most (88.3%) of the hashish samples were not suitable for consumption,” concluded the study reported in the journal Forensic Science International. “Hence, illegal street vending of hashish constitutes a public health issue.”
The forensic study of 90 samples of cannabis hash sourced from dealers on the street in different neighborhoods across Madrid, was conducted by a team at Complutense University.
Manuel Pérez Moreno, a pharmacist at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the study, was the one tasked with sourcing the product for testing. He explained that when buying from dealers off the street, the drug typically came in two forms: acorns, which are small hash balls, and ingots, brick-like hash.
They found that 93% of the acorns were contaminated with E. coli compared with 29.4% of the ingots, in addition to other foreign microbiological contaminants found. Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively short spell of diarrhea. But there are a few particularly nasty strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
The report stated the average amount of fecal bacteria in each gram of hash is 500 times higher than the maximum limit set by the U.S. legislation for cannabis or by European regulation for fruit or tea.
The study also found that 10% of samples contained aspergillus, a type of mold that is usually harmless but can trigger serious infections if those with weakened immune systems, underlying lung disease or asthma, inhale their spores.
Perez told El Pais that the contamination was due to the way in which the drug was smuggled into Spain: the hash is rolled into small balls (acorns), wrapped in cellophane and ingested.
“Once they arrive in Spain, they take laxatives to expel the acorns. And that’s what goes on sale,” said the pharmacist who added that 40% of the sample acorns actually smelled of feces.
“The problem comes not just with inhalation but preparing the drug in order to smoke it. Hashish is being manipulated in the hands constantly, ” explained Perez. “The filters of the joints are hollow. Not only do you suck the smoke, you also suck particles.”
Current laws in Spain limit consumption to private locations, like one of the many private cannabis clubs that have been opened during the last decade.
Just short of a third, 31%, of the Spanish population between ages 15 to 64 admit to using cannabis at some point in their lives, according to a recent report from the Ministry of Health. But a growing number of people are turning to the drug for medical reasons, and the findings of this latest study reveals the dangers that buying off the street poses for them.
“In recent years there has been an increase in the number of people with cancer who smoke cannabis with the intention of reducing the side effects of chemotherapy. These patients have weakened immune systems, so an infection caused by the consumption of contaminated or adulterated hashish could be fatal,” the authors of the study warn.
B. Le Grand