Allergic to Pot

Terena Bell
3 min readMay 13, 2019

Marijuana allergies are real, and for people who have one, decriminalization has been a nightmare

I’m allergic to pot. One secondhand whiff of somebody else’s joint and my nose clogs up. I get a headache and I start to itch. And if I’m around enough of it — say at a concert or something — I’m sick the whole weekend, coughing and weak in bed.

I’m lucky. Immunologist Dr Purvi Parikh says cold-like symptoms are on the milder end of marijuana allergy reactions. “Some people get full blown asthma attacks, rashes, and even anaphylaxis.” To clarify, “anaphylaxis” means anaphylactic shock — as in “shutting down your organs,” as in death.

While death by pot isn’t exactly common, allergies to it are. Scientists have known since the 1930’s that if you’re allergic to pollen or mold, you’re likely allergic to marijuana. Back then, 22% of people with allergies also got sick around pot. Today — according to research from 2000 and 2015, that number’s grown to 70–73%. Forty to fifty million Americans have seasonal allergies so — with a little math — as many as 36.5 million might be allergic to marijuana.

“People who already have seasonal allergies are more at risk because marijuana is a type of plant as well,” Parikh says. “Allergies have both a genetic as well as environmental component. Someone who’s never exposed to pot will likely will not develop a pot allergy. But as exposure gets more and more, that also increases your risk.”

This “exposure” comes from first- or secondhand smoke. For people like me, decriminalization has been a nightmare. I’ve had to leave restaurants because my waiter lit up during his break and came in reeking. I missed the Women’s March in DC because DCMJ (a District of Columbia-based marijuana advocacy group) led a public smoke-in near the event.

“I had one patient — she doesn’t even smoke but her neighbors were and it was coming in through her heating duct,” says Parikh. “[E]very time they would smoke marijuana, she would go into an asthma attack…I’ve had people move, actually, quite frequently because of their allergy.”

In addition to working as a practicing allergist and immunologist, Parikh also teaches at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine and is national spokeswoman for the Allergy and Asthma Network, a non-profit…

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Terena Bell

Reporter & fiction writer; series editor, Writing Through the Classics; short story editor for hire; sponsor more writing here: buymeacoffee.com/terenabell