Cannabis, also referred to as marijuana, is a plant used to create a euphoric high. It’s commonly used recreationally, although in recent years it’s become popular as a medicinal treatment for certain conditions.

Despite its benefits, marijuana is also an allergen that can trigger pollen-like allergy symptoms.

Marijuana allergy symptoms

Marijuana allergies have become more common in recent years. Although the plant is known for anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis can cause a number of symptoms if it’s inhaled. If you smoke and you have a weed allergy, you may experience:

Cannabis allergies can also resemble contact dermatitis if the plant is tampered with or handled. In a 2007 study evaluating marijuana allergy symptoms, a skin prick test revealed that cannabis can cause specific skin irritation. Some of the most common irritations include:

In more severe cases, an allergic reaction to cannabis can cause anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition that causes your blood pressure to suddenly drop and your airways to close. If left untreated, a marijuana allergy could be fatal.

Risk factors of a cannabis allergy

Your body views allergens as a threat. While it works to protect against foreign bacteria and threats, your immune system will also cause a number of reactions or allergic responses. There are a few risk factors that could increase your likelihood of developing a cannabis allergy.

Allergen cross-reactivity

Marijuana allergies can become more prevalent if you’re allergic to a food or substance with similar protein properties. This is also called allergy cross-reaction. Some foods with similar allergen properties as the cannabis plant are:

Sensitization

Increased cannabis exposure can also make you more likely to develop a sensitivity to the plant. This is more common in areas where marijuana is grown. Pollen from the cannabis plant can trigger allergen symptoms. As a result, marijuana sensitization has increased since its legalization.

Increased THC content

Marijuana is dioecious, meaning that it grows male and female plants. Marijuana growers specifically prefer female plants because they grow more buds, which are the flowers that can be smoked recreationally. Male flowers typically aren’t used because they have little buds.

The more buds grown from the plant, the more THC is produced. THC — scientifically known as tetrahydrocannabinol — is the chemical found in marijuana flowers that creates the euphoric high. Growers isolate female marijuana plants from being pollinated in order to control THC production. When grown in bulk, THC content increases and can affect your sensitivity to the plant.

Diagnosing a marijuana allergy

In order to identify an allergy, a doctor or allergist will perform a skin prick test. This test can show whether or not you’re sensitive to a particular substance.

During this procedure, your doctor will prick your arm or back with a small amount of an allergen to the area. If you’re allergic, your body will react and trigger an allergic response such as swelling or itching within 15 to 20 minutes. If you aren’t allergic, you’ll show no symptoms.

You can also use a blood test to test for allergies. The most common allergy blood test is the immunoCAP test. Other allergy blood tests include the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the radioallergosorbent (RAST) blood test.

These blood tests look for antibodies that are specific to a certain type of allergen. The more antibodies in your bloodstream, the more likely you are to be allergic to a specific substance. A blood test is considered a safer option because it lowers your risk of having a severe allergic reaction. However, results aren’t available for several days.

Preventing an allergic reaction

The best way to prevent having an allergic reaction to marijuana is to avoid it. If you’re using medical marijuana, smoking it recreationally, or consuming edibles, doctors recommend you stop to avoid a severe reaction.

If you work with the cannabis plant regularly for work, doctors recommend wearing gloves, face masks, and using allergy medication to help reduce or prevent symptoms. Doctors also recommend carrying an inhaler in case the marijuana pollen affects your breathing.

Outlook

If you’ve become severely allergic to marijuana or if you begin to experience irregular breathing symptoms, visit your doctor’s office immediately.