Detecting clean cannabis: These two tests help

Does your cannabis smell like caramel or crunch between your teeth? Then it’s better to stay away. Two simple tests help rule out the most common contaminants.

Smoking weed is legal. Buying cannabis, not yet. Also because a bag from the black market can make you sick – or be fatal. From July, quality will be controlled and ensured in so-called growing associations. Anyone who gets cannabis in a different way should be careful. Two simple tests help rule out the most common contaminants.

There are three reasons why grass is stretched: to make it heavier, lighter – or stronger. Four grams become five – and the price rises. “The most dangerous case reported in Germany is the addition of lead salts,” says toxicologist and drug expert Fabian Steinmetz. In Leipzig in 2007, several hundred people were poisoned. They developed pain in their backs and their blood pressure dropped dangerously low. However, such neurotoxic additives are rare.

The unwanted ingredients are more often found in the supermarket. If it grinds between your teeth, the grass may have been stretched with bird sand. This is intended to ensure that the bag becomes heavier when sold – and therefore more expensive. A little sand can also accidentally get between the flowers during harvest. If it settles at the bottom of the bag, something is wrong. If the flowers stick together, they may have been sprayed with hairspray.

Step one: tap it off

Talc is just as easy to recognize, says Steinmetz. The white powder is intended to make the material heavier but also brighter. “Light cannabis varieties such as White Widow and Northern Lights are considered to be of particularly high quality. These varieties have a particularly large number of trichomes, i.e. plant hairs, and therefore contain a particularly large number of odors and active ingredients, including the main active ingredient THC.”

Sand and talc are not toxic, but they put a strain on the lungs. They can lead to inflammation of the respiratory tract, including miners’ disease silicosis, the so-called silicosis, warns the Vienna drug advice center CheckIt. What’s really dangerous is getting grass stretched with glass into your lungs. But that rarely happens.

To test, users can lightly tap the cannabis flower on a piece of paper. If lead or coal dust is suspected on white paper, for talc or bird sand on dark paper. A microscope or magnifying glass can help.

Step two: do the fire test

The whiter and more crystalline the flowers look, the more customers pay. In order to imitate expensive weed, sellers reach for the baking shelf. “Powdered sugar or sprayed sugar solution is also best recognized under a microscope, as it shows angular crystals instead of organically grown, round shapes,” says toxicologist Steinmetz. If you don’t have a microscope at hand, a slight glitter can also be an indication. And when you light it, the cannabis can smell like caramel.

Step two, the firing test, helps here. Light the cannabis flower briefly. Does it no longer turn off or is it burning brightly? Then the cannabis is contaminated. “A large flame is an indication of a readily available hydrocarbon source, such as polymers from hairspray.” Sellers add most of these substances for similar reasons: “The small pigments make the grass look brighter and more crystalline – and weigh more,” says Steinmetz.

Advice centers and the police repeatedly warn against the extender “Brix”, a mixture of sugar, hormones and liquid plastic that is common in the USA and Australia. The marijuana flowers are sprayed with it before drying. If dark, hard or oily ash forms after burning, this is an indication. In Germany, however, “Brix” rarely appears in typical studies, says the expert.

The biggest danger: chemical additives

The biggest danger isn’t in the household goods department. It cannot be recognized by the smell or taste – and is potentially fatal: Synthetic cannabinoids, dissolved in solvents, are becoming increasingly common in Germany and neighboring countries.

The substances are applied to cannabis or other herbal mixtures – and increase the effect many times over. The side effects are also much more severe: from cardiac arrhythmias to coma. While there are no known deaths due to pure cannabis consumption, there have been dozens of deaths in Germany since 2019 due to synthetic cannabis additives or grass mixed with them.

Driving stoned: reporter does the self-test

Identifying the dangerous admixtures is difficult. A trained eye may detect traces of solvents. Another indication is an unusually quick and strong onset of effects, says toxicologist Steinmetz: “If you suddenly notice a strong effect after consumption and not after three to ten minutes.” Rapid tests for THC content can also help. If the result is low but the effect is strong, it could have been enhanced with chemical additives. Only a laboratory test, for example in drug checking facilities, can provide certainty.

Not particularly organic: mold in cannabis

Cannabis can also unintentionally get harmful substances. The flowers are typically not completely dried but rather fermented for better flavor. “Bacteria and fungi can form – and these are fundamentally a health risk,” says Steinmetz. Anyone who has a previous illness or a suppressed immune system should be particularly careful here. Moldy cannabis must be destroyed. Even if it looks like the mold has disappeared after it has completely dried, the toxins can remain.

Hemp cultivation is also a problem, says Steinmetz. Hemp plants are very good at storing heavy metals from the soil. There may also be pesticides that are intended to ensure greater yields. Steinmetz also warns against growth hormones. “This is definitely not biodynamic cultivation,” says Steinmetz.

If the grass is not clean, the expert recommends disposing of it. “Under no circumstances should you throw the flowers into the shared wastebasket or the whole flowers into the shared organic waste where the neighbors’ children could find them.” It is better to dispose of it chopped up in organic waste – or directly in the chimney.

Sources:Medical Journal, Drug checking Vienna, German Bundestag

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