Contaminated Cannabis – The Unavoidable Consequence of Prohibition

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Eleven years ago, I was confronted with the phenomenon of contaminated cannabis for the first time.

White Widow contaminated sand

White Widow contaminated with sand

One of my colleagues had bought two grams from his private source and wanted to medicate in our editorial office. The medicine smelled and looked good, but visibly, despite the correct weight of 2.0 grams, it looked as if it was at least a half-gram short. When rubbing between the fingers, the bud felt rough, and when licking the fingers after, something crunched between my teeth. Also, the hard-as-stone crystals sunk to the bottom of the zipper-bag. Eventually I assumed the colleague had bought at least half a gram of fine sand. We decided to burn the sanded weed with a Jet-Stream lighter to see if there was any inorganic material left over. After burning the two grams, we had a dark green glass globe weighing about 0.5 grams. The sand used for diluting the bud had been fused into glass.

Startled by this incident, I looked online to see whether or not any other smokers have had similar experiences. At first, I only found reports in British forums where users blamed a substance called “Brix+” for the improper buds. This liquid substance should be blended with the flowers after drying as a “wet cure application,” so the producer stated on the bottle, that they weigh up to 22 percent more. After some brief research in German grow shops, it was clear that Brix had only been offered for a few weeks, it was advertised as a new yield enhancer from Australia. The soaked flowers actually weigh almost a quarter gram more, have lost almost all of their aroma, but appear extremely crystalline after the treatment.

Everything Began With Brix

Brix is a unit of measurement normally used in wine growing that provides information on the sugar content, similar to Oechsle-Grading. Some fertilizer manufacturers from overseas, particularly in the UK, have taken over this  fact, and they praise products that make bud particularly “heavy and sweet,” often in connection with the name Brix.

Once again, some criminals from the cannabis scene took advantage of this by placing the “Brix+” on the market and massively advertising it as a brand new yield enhancer. Our team searched and found somebody to test a sample in a mass spectrometer that had been sent to our editorial office anonymously. The liquid product contained a colorless plastic polymer.

Not too long after the first reports of “Brix+” contaminated cannabis appeared, the product was taken off the shelves of almost all grow shops across Europe. But anyone who thought the problem was solved at that time was not aware of the mechanisms of an uncontrolled black market. After Brix+ was taken from the shelves there was less and less uncontaminated cannabis on the black market, particularly in the imported buds from the Netherlands which became infamous for being dirty. No matter whether talcum, salts, sugar, oregano, fibre hemp, broken glass, or hairspray, dealers were padding their wallets with contaminants.

Cannabis contaminated with lead sulfide

Cannabis contaminated with lead sulfide

The public did not take notice of the phenomenon until 2008, when two people nearly died from contaminated cannabis. At that time, an unscrupulous dealer had the idea of using lead sulfide as a cutting agent. It shines beautifully, weighs a lot and very quickly causes lead-poisoning when smoked. After almost two hundred reported lead poisonings in and around Leipzig, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) decided to test more seized samples.

Lead was no longer found, but a wide range of previously mentioned substances which definitely have nothing to do with cannabis were detected. However, testing cannabis from the black market is generally unlawful, and therefore, consumers have little chance of detecting cutting agents on their buds. If contaminated heroin or cocaine is seized there are public warnings to protect consumers. In the case of contaminated cannabis, potential consumers are not informed; politicians withdraw on the the position that any consumption of cannabis is harmful and should be avoided. The only information available are on Cutting Agent Register pages like the Streckmittelmelder.

The register is still being filled with new content every day. Here, the often helpless consumers can learn how to use a few simple tricks to detect contaminations. An incomplete burning, sparks or a float-test of a bud in a glass water can give hints on cutting agent contamination. But it cannot prevent health hazards caused by black market cannabis or create any consumer protections like in Oregon, Washington, or Colorado. In the south of Germany, where the penalties and profits for cannabis are the highest in the country, most incidents and probable contaminations are reported.

Back to the Roots

The only good thing about the phenomenon was the reflection of many consumers on their own abilities as home gardeners. The sales of the grow shops have increased since then proportionally to the amounts of cutting agents. Due to the popularity of home growing, the situation improved in Germany, however, this dangerous way of raising profits has even penetrated Amsterdam’s coffeeshop scene.

“Banana-Haze” or “Strawberry-Kush” often turns out to be the nastiest fruit-flavored medicine. The buds are inedible, and start to mold in the zipper-bag after three hours, just like lettuce in a plastic bag. The cannabis college has warned its visitors not to purchase fruity strains since 2015, and even forbids its consumption in the colleges vaporizer with warning signs: “Please let the staff check your cannabis before using the vaporizers. Apple and Strawberry Weed are not allowed.” The warning in Amsterdam’s activist center is the best evidence that the disgusting buds have reached the coffeeshops of Europe’s cannabis-metropolis. During my last visit in 2016, the college’s staff informed visitors why the diluted buds destroy the expensive vaporizer. But despite the tireless explanation the Dutch activists, the next day I met a group of Canadians who had just purchased one gram of “Vanilla-Kush” for 17 Euro. The strain was procured from an established coffeeshop in Haarlemstreet; it smelled of cheap vanilla, was half wet and obviously impure. Despite my advice to return to the coffeeshop, to confront the budtender with his dangerous product and get their money back, they preferred to smoke it. At least the coffeeshop “High Times,” where I purchased my first and only contaminated sample of Banana Haze back in 2015, has since closed their doors.

Photos courtesy of DHV (German Hemp Association)

About Author

Michael Knodt is an expert on cannabis politics and cannabis culture across Europe. Born in North Germany, Michael has been living in Berlin since 1990. He initially studied history and journalism before receiving his certification as a carpenter. Since then, Michael has made regular visits to countries where cannabis is cultivated, such as Jamaica and Morocco. He has worked as a freelancer for Weedmaps, Vice Magazine Germany, Sensi Seeds and numerous German-language cannabis magazines since 2004. From 2005 to 2013, Michael was the Editor-in-Chief of Germanys biggest cannabis periodical. He also is the face and presenter of the most popular program on cannabis prohibition and just launched a new channel called "DerMicha." Aside from his journalistic work, Michael is a cannabis patient, activist, sought-after speaker on conferences and congresses, and a father of two.

7 Comments

  1. This kind of thing has gotten a lot better in the CA medical market and the CO, WA, OR legal 21+ markets. I don’t think anyone would get away with Brix or any of those other obvious contaminants.

    The problem now is pesticide residual.

    There are allowable pesticides in WA and CO for use on weed (don’t know about other states), but not much is known about smoking even those. So it’s unknown if they are safe for long term inhalation. Also, as we’ve seen in CO and WA, some growers get caught using unapproved pesticides, but given there is no effective testing for pesticides, you have to pick your grower very carefully.

    There are some growers in WA who stake their reputation on either using no pesticides or listing the harmless ones (like Neem oil) that they use on the label. Most of them follow ‘organic’ practices as well. They are a little more expensive (usually), those are the only growers I buy from.

  2. Pretty remarkable that people don’t understand this is only one great point with dozens more to follow. Prohibition also leads to kids not getting carded when trying to buy weed, the exposure truly dangerous drugs and worse ruins the conversation we have with our kids about drugs. I’m all for a drug war…but the right one.

  3. Dennis Pielack on

    Thanks for this article. It is good to know of the evil forces that contaminate the image and effect of marijuana for selfish greed. Home growers smoke their own before they pass it on, and the consumer gets a first hand account of the marijuana, strain, history, smoke-ability, taste, potency, etc. What would be most helpful is a cheap easy testing mechanism for contaminants like pesticides, mold, etc. and or chemical composition, to further know and inform about the cannabis grown. But of first concern is to get government to realize that the Law is the greatest impediment to safe use of safe marijuana.

  4. The problem in legal states is that the tested, clean healthy weed goes to adults, and all the toxic illegal weed goes to the kids, who have to buy crap off the street.

    Just more insanity driven by people who think illegality (for under 21) somehow reduces consumption. Never has, never will.

    Imagine if we enforced health standards on food only for adults, but not kids. Same thing.

  5. This has got to be the biggest bull$&it article I have ever read!
    You just stating fruity strains are bad can give a lot of people the wrong impression! The problem was with strains that were sprayed with things to make them smell fruity as hell and the stuff makes the buds smoke and taste bad.
    Their are a $&it ton of strains that are fruity and are definitely top shelf! Strawberry OG, Strawberry cough are well known, very good strains. You have Lemon Haze, Lemon OG, Pineapple Express, Grape Ape, and Vanilla Kush has won at a Cannabis cup because it’s damn good stuff! Only an idiot would buy wet weed anyways, it has to be dried correctly and then cured! If it’s wet, it ain’t smokeable, you can’t blame that on the strain!
    Blueberry is used to create some of today’s best strains!
    It’s because of people like you that fruity variety of bud is a bad thing. Now all people most uneducated people want is the diesel/fuel smelling buds. And theirs a lot of those people who don’t know and only go by what they hear. Theirs plenty of fruity strains that have that dank smell along with it too! Skunky/danky and fruity!
    I grow quite a few fruity strains myself. White Berry, Super Lemon Haze, Bay Dream and Pineapple Express. They are all 100% top shelf strains! They smell, taste and smoke awesome!
    Quite literally unforgettable strains.
    If your knocking fruity strains, make sure you clarify, because your article makes ALL fruity strains look bad. It’s the strains that are sprayed with fruity scents or flavorings that make for disgusting buds that don’t smoke well. It was happening quite a lot down in Southern California but after the info came out, their was too many articles like this that did not differentiate between the “cut” weed and the 100% organically grown fruity strains without the added flavorings.
    Believe it or not, that crap started in the UK!
    They sell little bottles of flavored liquids that they put on the cigs that they mix tobacco and weed with. I’ve seen it in coffee shops and seen people put the drops on their bowl.
    After that I started seeing it sold here in cali in smoke shops a lot. I even came across people who would use it on their bud if they couldn’t get top shelf bud.
    That’s the same thing some dispensaries started doing. But the stuff would sit on the buds and the whole taste of the bud would change over time and mingle with whatever they used on it and by then it taste and smokes horrible.
    It’s too bad that some people are misinformed and then write articles about it.
    Vanilla Kush is one of the best strains I’ve ever smoke in over 20 years!
    Anyone who would talk trash about that strain is definitely “misinformed”!
    I will not trust anything I read from this guy.

  6. those who grow for profit will always be tempted to add adulterants to increase weight. That’s why states need to de-emphasize cannabis business and allow unlimited homegrows = health for the general populace.

  7. MedicalMarijuanaMonopolyMafiaVictim on

    Brix+, AN Budcandy, Botanicare Sweet Raw/Citrus/Grape, GH Floranectar FruitnFusion/BlueberryDream/BananaBliss/PineappleRush/Coconut

    CuttingEdge SourDee/Sugaree, Grotek PinaColada/Grapefruit/Blueberry/Strawberry/GreenApple Final Flush.

    This is just a small taste of the fake-scent sugar-water products used on LEGAL, STATE APPROVED MEDICAL CANNABIS.

    These products are mostly plant esters from industry scraps (peels, rinds) and simple sugars (table sugar) that soak right into the roots and into the plant fiber. These products contain other ingredients that may or may not assist your crop, mainly included to sell the idea that this is a fertilizer/nutrient supplement. It is not. It is a direct contaminant/adulterant.

    The bottled product gives the plant the same exact smell of the product. A direct transfer, no chemical reactions or anything. The sugar adds uselesa sandbag weight, it does not increase yield. It inflames premature buds and gives them a whitish, frostier appearance. It hides minor cases of mold.

    The growers who use this stuff are convinced by the fact that they waste so much money trusting opportunist salesmen.. Its a horrible case of debt induced delusion. It is absolutely no different than spraying your buds with honey water, or Coca-Cola. Youre just buying it premixed and sending it up the root for complete absorption.

    When I lived in Northern California and Oregon, fruity strains tasted absolutely amazing. When I moved to Colorado/Az, I discovered the fake weed. Spending meticulous hours cleaning my vaporizers,and tossing more “Cannabis” in the trash than I was consuming. The state health departments do not care one bit.

    Not only is the marijuana contaminated with fruit scented sugar water, it is contaminated with nut products and lactose products,in the form of mold hiding sprays and feeds. I have seen ONE peanut allergy warning. I have no idea why peanuts are being used, but Neem nut oil is on a large percentage of legal market Cannabis, as a mold deterrent. Many dispensaries pass the smell of processed Neem oil and rotted milk spray off as terpenes.

    Those are not the only unnatural smells found in legal medical Cannabis. A lot of the product can be seperated into groups by the line of nutrient it was grown with. I call smell Botanicare PBR on a large portion of the flowers. Several others I can group but have yet to identify. The smell and color can be consistently seperated in some dispensaries, the buds are so heavily contaminated.

    Not much else to say. Its illegal to grow your own MMJ in Arizona, where this problem is worst. Arizona dispensaries have the worst Cannabis I’ve ever experienced. That is including tons of bricked up seeded import. Hardly any of it taste like Cannabis varietals. It all taste like lawn clippings and grow products. I suggest people grow their own despite the illegality of home production.

    This is what legalization gets us. Smart people were asking for decriminalization. The corporations sponsored legalization. The retailers grow the product themselves, they have exclusive production rights and zero regulations. It is absolutely disgusting on all accounts!

    And the saddest part is that most people eat it up. It scares me to realize the mental state of the average person. Deluded placebo people who worry about the packaging more than how the product itself is. I’ve seen so many people talk about how good weed tastes, only to personal find out the weed they are talking about has been grown with sugar water, neem oil and even lung burning essential oils.

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