Individuals who work in the cannabis industry may face an increased risk of asthma, allergic reactions and severe respiratory problems, which could be fatal, according to recent warnings issued by federal health officials.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers say microbial and plant allergens, chemicals, pesticides, and other irritants released by cannabis cultivation and production, have been linked to reports of work-related asthma and other respiratory problems.

In findings published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on November 17, researchers indicate that at least one Massachusetts cannabis production worker has died of a fatal asthma attack after suffering work-related respiratory problems, which they have determined was occupational asthma. She reportedly experienced nausea, runny nose, cough, and shortness of breath just months after beginning employment, and died less than a year later.

Fatal Occupational Asthma Investigation

According to the CDC’s investigation, the employee began working at in an indoor cannabis cultivation and processing facility in late May 2021, where she was regularly exposed to grinding areas that generate dust and other inhalable air allergens. In late July, she began experiencing respiratory-related symptoms and was tested twice for SARS-CoV-2, however, both results were negative.

In October, the employee started working in cannabis flower production areas, where she directly handled large quantities of ground product to make rolled cannabis cigarettes, increasing her exposure to dust and other allergen particles in the air.

Just over a month later, she experienced difficulty breathing, wheezing, and was transported to the emergency room. She reported that she did not have any history of asthma, but had been experiencing lingering respiratory symptoms for over a month that she believed was work-related. An albuterol nebulizer relieved her symptoms and she was sent home with a prescription inhaler.

On January 4, 2022, the worker complained of worsening shortness of breath, and began experiencing coughing, sneezing, and labored breathing while filling cannabis cigarettes. After her prescribed albuterol inhaler failed to improve her condition, she suffered cardiac arrest.

Despite resuscitation efforts, she did not regain consciousness and was declared brain dead on January 7.

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