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Testing & Processing Mycotoxin analysis

Tainted Bud

Mycotoxins – such as ochratoxin A (OTA) and aflatoxins (AF) – are a class of compounds produced by some species of fungi that, at certain levels, are toxic to humans and animals. They are known to contaminate a wide range of agricultural and food products, including grains, coffee, and wine. Detecting and quantifying the levels of these toxins in medical cannabis is crucial to ensuring the safety of consumers – especially immunocompromised patients. However, there is very little research available on mycotoxin contamination in illegal cannabis samples. In fact, the authors of a recent paper report that they couldn’t find a single study looking at mycotoxin contamination in illegal cannabis (1). This is particularly worrying because illegal cannabis is not subject to the same good agricultural practices expected of medical cannabis growers and could therefore harbor even higher levels of contaminants.

To rectify this, a team from the Laboratoire National de Santé analyzed 142 samples of illegal cannabis, seized from the Luxembourg market by police in 2016 and 2017, for the presence of AF and OTA. High-performance liquid chromatography coupled to fluorescence detection was the method of choice because of its low limits of detection. Surprisingly, no AF were detected in any of the 142 samples (>0.004 µg/kg). However, OTA was found in around one third of the samples at concentrations below 20 µg/kg – comparable to levels found in regulated food samples. Based on the European Food Safety Authority’s risk assessment in food, these levels shouldn’t present a significant risk to human health with moderate cannabis consumption – but larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.

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  1. L Buchicchio et al., Mycotoxin Res, 38, 71 (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s12550-022-00449-z.
About the Author
Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

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