A particular strain of cannabis flower literally named “Grim Reefer” has been recalled from Arizona dispensaries due to potential mold contamination.
The Arizona Department of Health Services issued a recall Monday for certain cannabis products that may have been contaminated with aspergillus mold.
“An Arizona marijuana establishment has voluntarily recalled specific products due to possible contamination with Aspergillus, a fungus that can cause allergic reactions or infection, usually in people already sick with something else,” said a written press release from the ADHS. “The products being voluntarily recalled is the Nirvana Center’s Grim Reefer, Batch number PHX1091-GR.”
The ADHS said that the cause of the possible contamination was due to laboratory testing that did not follow state guidelines, though the press release did not say exactly how the labs were skirting guidelines, only that whatever was being done elicited the possibility of false negative results for certain contaminants.
“ADHS Laboratory auditors discovered discrepancies during a routine inspection, potentially leading to false negative results for contaminants being reported,” the press release said. “Once ADHS discovered the potential contamination, they contacted the facility that produced the products. The licensee took immediate action to work with all distribution and retail partners to remove any potentially impacted products from store shelves.”
There has not yet been any issues reported with people who have consumed the Grim Reefer, nor with any of the other cannabis product recalls from aspergillus in Arizona. The Nirvana Center voluntarily recalled all the potentially contaminated products, presumably before they could make anybody sick.
“To date, no illnesses have been reported. This announcement is being made out of an abundance of caution,” the press release said. “Patients who have purchased potentially contaminated products should not ingest, inhale, or otherwise consume them and should dispose of them. If you have already consumed any of the products and have any of the symptoms described below, please contact your healthcare provider or seek care in the event of an emergency.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, aspergillus is a type of fungus with over 180 known species, about 40 of which have been known to cause unpleasant or harmful reactions in humans. Aspergillus fumigatus is the most common “strain,” if you will, of the fungus. People with healthy immune systems typically don’t experience a reaction to aspergillus, but people with weakened immune systems have been known to have reactions to it in the form of ailments like lung or sinus infections which can spread to the rest of the body.
Most people breathe aspergillus every day without getting sick, but in those it does affect the fungus can cause an illness known as aspergillosis. Most of the symptoms of aspergillosis can be likened to a combination of asthma and allergy attacks, according to the CDC.
Aspergillus recalls in cannabis products have actually been happening with some form of regularity as more states legalize and enact different standards of lab testing. In Oregon, for instance, there was a big problem with products testing positive for aspergillus beyond the allowed levels but the laws ended up getting repealed and recalled products were eventually sold after local cannabis farmers appealed to the state legislature that some level of aspergillus is near-impossible to avoid when growing cannabis.
“The industry was concerned that that was not a workable standard that could be met, particularly for growers who are growing directly in soil,” said attorney Kevin Jacoby to KLCC. Jacoby represented the Cannabis Industry Alliance of Oregon in a legal challenge to the state’s aspergillus laws with regard to cannabis.
Oregon’s change of heart has not stopped the ADHS from recalling the Grim Reefer, however. Nor has it stopped the state health authority from recalling nine other batches of potentially contaminated cannabis just this year. Almost all the batches recalled were due to possible aspergillus contamination, though some were for salmonella as well. Several of the past incidents of aspergillus contamination also cited poor lab etiquette or improperly reported lab results.
Interestingly enough, two of those product recalls were ultimately – recalled – because there’s a law in Arizona with regard to cannabis testing facilities that if a product fails testing it can be sent to a second lab. If it passes testing at the second lab, the product is sent to a third lab and the third lab’s result is the final one. Three of the ten batches recalled in 2023 for aspergillus in Arizona met this standard, had their recalls lifted, and were ultimately sold to the general public.
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