Fungus In Medical Marijuana Potential Cause of California Man’s Death

University of California, Davis doctors were left scratching their heads when an extremely rare fungal infection killed a California man who, for many of them, should have survived his winnable cancer battle.

“It started with a couple patients that were undergoing very intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell therapy, and those patients were very immune compromised,” explained Dr. Joseph Tuscano of the University of California, Davis Cancer Center.

For two men that cancer fight became all the more intense with the onset of a rare, but particularly deadly fungal infection. For one California man in particular, this infection proved fatal.

“We thought it was strange to have cases of such a bad fungal disease in such a short amount of time,” said Dr. George Thompson, a fungal infection expert with UC Davis Medical Center.

“What struck me is both of these gentlemen were at least medicinal marijuana users, that helped them with nausea and appetite issues that come with the treatment,” said Tuscano, who joined with Thompson to investigate further.

In order to find the culprit, the doctors had to dig deeper. There was just one problem however, and that was a Federal law preventing such research from happening at UC Davis. So in the name of science, the two doctors joined forces with Steep Hill Laboratories in Berkeley.

“We sometimes see 20 or 30 percent of our samples coming through the lab significantly contaminated with molds,” said Land, who had plenty of experience finding mold and fungus strains, but this time, he and his team went deeper.

The lab gathered 20 samples of medical marijuana from across the state of California and took them apart, extracting a range of dangerous bacteria and fungi which they analyzed right down to their DNA.

Even Land was surprised by the results. “We were a little bit startled that ninety percent of those samples had something on them. Some DNA of some pathogen,” he told KPIX 5.

“The cannabis was contaminated with many bacteria and fungi, some of which was compatible with the infections that I saw in my patients,” Tuscano said.

“Klebsiella, E.coli, Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, these are all very serious infections for anybody in the hospital. But particularly in that population, the cancer population,” Thompson.

With the cannabis market in California still in somewhat of a disarray, this new discovery sheds light on the importance of oversight in the industry, especially if the plant is touted as a way to combat such potentially fatal illnesses.With the proper vetting process, cannabis should not be killing cancer patients.  As Dr. Tuscano explains, “the problem in my opinion is that there’s this misconception that these dispensaries produce products that have been tested to be safe for patients, and that’s not necessarily the case.”

“We see cannabis that comes through the lab that would have to be destroyed in other states,” explains Tony Daniel, one of the Steep Hill Lab members that have been analyzing California’s marijuana since the 1990s. 

One way cannabis is often saved from destruction is through the use of pesticides and fungacides, however this is raising valid concerns about the quality of cannabis in the California Bay Area. 

The most prevalent of fungacides used on cannabis in the Bay Area is Myclobutanil. It’s a fungicide often sold under the name Eagle 20. Mostly used on things like grapes and hops it is considered harmless if consumed by humans. 

Combusting this fungacide, on the other hand, produces a by product called hydrogen cyanide. Ask anyone with a 5th grade science education and they will tell you anything with cyanide in its name will probably kill you.

In a statement to KPIX 5, Dow AgroSciences — the manufacturer of Eagle 20 — said the fungicide has not been approved for and should not be used on marijuana.

KPIX 5 recently purchased samples from five different Bay Area dispensaries and one cannabis street vendor and the results were telling. All but one sample tested positive for pesticides.

What’s the end result? Most of California’s marijuana is being grown– no-questions-asked. The end result is plenty of products that you probably will, but rather not, smoke. 

Petey Wheatstraw

Hi, my name is Petey Wheatstraw. I'm an avid marijuana smoker, writer, devoted father and non-profit minion-- not necessarily in that order. A Chicago native I've lived in the Bay Area since 1996. Click Here for Free Cannabis