The same chemicals that give cannabis its distinct smell may be contributing to air pollution and affecting human health. Recent tests of four cannabis grow facilities in Nevada and California found that the plants naturally release compounds that, when they accumulate in the air, create smog.
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) and Washoe County Health District recently contributed to the study, which was published in September in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association.
Plants naturally produce what are called biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) to attract pollinators and defend themselves against predators; however, cannabis plants in grow facilities are releasing BVOCs at a concerning rate.
“We need to put the red flag there because we did see high concentrations of volatile organic compounds in the facilities, inside,” said Vera Samburova, lead author of the study and an associate research professor of atmospheric science at DRI.
“These facilities [are] usually built around the highways. When we have combination with the volatile organic compounds from the cannabis facilities and emissions from the cars: this is when we can generate ozone. It’s toxic for people when it’s around us. It’s not toxic, and it’s important to help, in the upper atmosphere,” Samburova said.
When VOCs combine with nitrogen oxide emissions, like from cars and fuel combustion, and are exposed to the sun, they create ozone. When it’s in the ozone layer, it’s helpful in providing protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. But at ground level, ozone can be harmful to humans.
Ozone at ground level can make it difficult to breathe, cause shortness of breath and coughing, inflame airways, aggravate lung diseases (like asthma and chronic bronchitis), and make lungs more susceptible to infection. Washoe County has already exceeded ozone air-quality standards multiple times this year and in