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Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Pot

Photo by Jackson Fager

More people are getting stoned without fear of consequence now in the United States than ever before. Prohibition is being rolled back, and people are celebrating by getting high as hell. Some, however, are noticing side effects that aren’t generally associated with pot, like runny noses and itchy eyes. According to allergists, these people are discovering that they have an allergy to marijuana.

Pot allergies are likely not uncommon, though the research is too preliminary to know exactly what the numbers are. Up to 20 percent of people have seasonal allergies—meaning they’re allergic to plants or pollens. And since marijuana is indeed a weed, complete with pollen, those with seasonal allergies are more likely to be allergic to pot.

“With [marijuana’s] increasing legality and less reluctance to talk with medical professionals, I think we’ll see more people reporting it,” William Silvers, a Denver-based allergist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, told VICE. Silvers published an editorial in February pointing to a rise of these cases in his practice and calling for allergists to ask their patients about marijuana use in a “nonjudgmental manner.” A 2015 review of the research published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology noted an increase in reports of marijuana allergy as well.

Silvers said most of the patients he’s treated for pot allergies are either heavy smokers or people who work in the nascent industry, and so they handle weed on a regular basis. One 28-year-old patient, for instance, developed extreme nasal congestion shortly after becoming a trimmer at a marijuana facility; eventually, he developed a chronic cough and a wheeze, too. Another patient who worked in a growing facility developed a persistent runny nose, itchy eyes, dry cough, and itchy hands with an eczema-like rash, which was worse when he was at work.

While less common, other people show signs of allergies just from regular pot use. When Denver resident Sergei smoked up, his nose would run and his eyes would itch. Assuming those were things everyone experienced when they got high, he put up with it, until an offhand comment to an allergist led to the realization that he was allergic. “I’d never heard of being allergic to pot, so it hadn’t even occurred to me,” he told VICE. “I just assumed what I was experiencing was normal.”

While a snotty nose, itchy or red eyes, and the potential for asthma or breathing issues are often mild at first, they can heighten as the immune system becomes sensitized to the allergen via exposure. “You may be exposed five or ten times before you have any reaction,” Silvers said.

Pot legalization has led to the increased use of more potent weed, which could also result in a stronger reaction. So far, Silvers has seen one case of anaphylaxis, a more serious kind of allergic response that can include vomiting, a skin rash, and major breathing problems. There are other documented cases of anaphylaxis, including one involving a police detective handling pot as part of an investigation, and, terrifyingly, one resulting from the intravenous use of marijuana.

Weed allergies can be triggered in many different ways. Some people might only get a reaction from inhaling smoke, while others will have issues from swallowing edibles or handling buds or leaves. In all cases, the remedy is tragically the same: Stay away from it.

A caveat from Silvers: If the reaction, like Sergei’s, is mild, doesn’t seem to be getting worse, and is mainly just a runny nose or itchy eyes, taking an antihistamine before smoking may help. Trying edibles or a vaporizer instead of smoking could be worth a shot too, he said.

“But if you start to develop asthma, you need to take a hard look at what you’re doing,” he added. “You at least need to be open about talking with your doctor, and you need to realize you may have to change your behaviors.”

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Springtime isn't the only thing turning people into itchy, watery, red-eyed monsters.

8 Signs You’re Allergic To Weed

With the growing movement to legalize marijuana in the United States, of course more people are likely going to use it. But pot isn’t all fun and games, so you might want to know about the signs you’re allergic to weed. That’s right — on top of just not liking marijuana or having had a bad experience with it, some people are straight-up allergic to it. After all, marijuana is a pretty potent (if generally safe) substance, otherwise people wouldn’t be so keen to get their hands on it for various reasons. Every drug has its risks, and weed is no exception.

Even if you don’t use marijuana yourself, the chances that you might run into others who do are high — over 100 million Americans have used pot according to the organization NORML, which works to reform marijuana laws, including 25 million just in the past year. It’s also worth noting that for some allergens, people aren’t born with the allergic reaction; instead, allergies may develope over time after repeated contact with the allergen. These encounters may gradually sensitize some people to a potential allergen, although we don’t fully understand why yet.

That means even if you’ve had no trouble with marijuana allergies in the past, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that you might have trouble with them in the future. And it’s no laughing matter, because avoiding marijuana particles is actually quite difficult — one sufferer, for example, told U.S. News and World Report in 2015 that she tends to avoid dance clubs, stores, and even entire states where marijuana is legalized in order to protect her health.

Stay on the lookout for these symptoms of weed allergy, so you can be extra careful to avoid exposure if indeed you have the misfortune of being allergic to marijuana.

1. Breathing Trouble

Dyspnea, or labored breathing, is a common symptom of a weed allergy. This could happen to you even if you didn’t smoke or otherwise inhale any of the marijuana, though some people turning up with this symptom have worked around hemp used in textiles too.

2. Congestion And Sneezing

Oh, rhinitis — this is when the lining of your nose becomes inflamed, such as due to exposure to an allergen like weed. Predictable consequences include congestion, sneezing, stuffiness, runny nose, and post-nasal drip (which possibly leads to a sore throat).

3. Headache

All that congestion can easily give you a headache. So basically weed may help you to deal with pain, unless it causes it. Oops.

4. Fatigue And Irritability

Marijuana characteristically leads to chillness. unless you’re allergic to it, that is. It’s easy to see that all these symptoms can accumulate into poor sleep, fatigue, and irritability.

5. Itchiness

It’s not normal to feel intensely itchy after exposure to marijuana (or ever, really). This is a big red flag.

6. Rashes

Some weed allergy sufferers report developing rashes or hives along with their itchiness. Definitely enough to dampen your high.

7. Conjunctivitis

Yep, that’s good old pink eye. Weed can do it to you if you’re allergic!

8. Food Allergies

Last but not least and worst of all, some researchers claim that consuming marijuana may make users more susceptible to fruit and vegetable allergies. If you unfortunately start seeming generally allergic and have a hard time pinning it down, this horrible but aptly named “cannabis-fruits/vegetables syndrome” is worth considering.

With the growing movement to legalize marijuana in the United States, of course more people are likely going to use it. But pot isn’t all fun and games, so you might want to know about the signs you’re allergic to weed. That’s right — on top of just…