Research shows COVID-19 can remain active on cannabis buds for 7 days

Published Jun 26, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Ivan-balvan

Some researchers have sounded the alarm by saying that cannabis flower can harbor the live COVID-19 virus for up to 7 days, creating an avoidable risk for pot businesses that have, in many regions, been deemed an essential service throughout this pandemic. Experts with the Medical Genomics Corporation, a highly rated cannabis testing company, on June 11th,released the results of their latest study that seems to confirm the length of time that COVID-19 can stay alive on a cannabis flower.

Why they did it

Right now, the majority of those who are dying or experiencing severe complications due to COVID-19 are people with underlying medical conditions that are often prescribed cannabis as a treatment, so keeping this susceptible population was a key motivator for this study to take place, but the truth is that in this new world, we have no idea what the future will bring, and with so many businesses adopting new practices to keep consumers safe, these researchers feel that it is time that the cannabis industry did the same.

How they did it

Researchers from the Medical Genomics Corporation devised a plan to infect a cannabis flower with a non-contagious version of SARs-CoV-2, which allowed them to work closely with the samples without risking an active infection themselves. At the end of the trial, the majority of the cannabis flower specimens were still infected with the virus for up to 7 days after it was applied to the plant materials, suggesting that COVID-19 has a shelf life of at least 1 week.

Is there a way to decontaminate cannabis flower?

There are some different methods of contamination, such as gamma radiation which is currently used within the cannabis industry to ensure a level of quality that adheres to industry standards set out for the health and safety of consumers, and they can be just as effective for eradicating COVID-19 from the cannabis flower. That is as long as the infection attaches to the plant materials while it is still in the hands of the producer, because if it comes into contact with an infected person between testing and sale, then irradiation may not be effective on its own.

Are tests for the virus widely available for cannabis users?

Tests for COVID-19 are not widely available for regular cannabis users, but the Medical Genomics Corporation is trying to get all of the biggest cannabis companies on board with their newest test for the virus. It is just as effective as current swab tests that are used on people who believe that they might have the virus, and it can help to offer a level of assurance for our most vulnerable cannabis users.

Is this also a problem with hemp flower?

If you're buying cannabis flower or product that isn't sealed for at least 1 week or easily disinfected, then it could potentially carry the virus if it were to come into contact with an infected individual before it makes it to the customer, and the same principle, in theory, should transfer over to hemp flower, which consists of a similar density and materials.

When the transfer of COVID-19 can take place

Some might believe that the transfer of the live virus would take place when it is inhaled into the lungs, but the extreme levels of heat are more than enough to kill most bacteria or viruses, including COVID-19. Instead, it is during the handling of cannabis flower, when it is broken up and put into a smoking device that it is most likely to transfer the live virus to the consumer.

Important notes

This study is currently under review for consistencies, but it reveals a powerful and new idea that could help to keep millions of vulnerable cannabis consumers safe, as long as our big companies are willing to get on board with the idea. The move might not completely eradicate the pandemic, but it could help to slow the spread within the community that enjoys smoking pot, adding to the leaps and bounds that we’ve made against the virus through other measures that are currently in place, such as social distancing.

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