The Truth About Marijuana-Contaminated Drinking Water
Thursday afternoon, officials in the small town of Hugo, Colorado, told residents they’d found THC—yup, that would be the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana—in local wells. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment discouraged residents from drinking, cooking with, or bathing in the water, but subsequent tests revealed that there was not, in fact, THC in the water supply. Experts are still investigating, but it sounds like this is a case of false positives.
Although there wasn’t actually THC in Hugo’s tap water this time around, it’s not unheard of for drugs to wind up in a public water system. Pharmaceuticals can end up in your H2O in a few ways, such as when some of the meds in your urine that haven’t been metabolized remain after wastewater treatment—or when people flush unused drugs down the toilet or sink, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But in general, that doesn’t mean your health is in danger if you drink tap water or use it to cook or bathe.
“Preliminary study results suggest that risks posed to healthy adult humans (and animals with similar physiology) by water-borne pharmaceutical residues is very low,” says the EPA, which also states that it’s unlikely you’ll see any therapeutic effects from the drugs in your drinking water (although researchers are still unclear on whether these pharmaceuticals might negatively impact children, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or people with other health issues).
And, as it turns out, there is basically zero risk that THC can end up in the water supply—even if you live near a dispensary.
“Cannabinoids [the chemical compounds that make up marijuana] are not soluble in water,” meaning they don’t dissolve when they come into contact with water, Christopher Hudalla, Ph.D., founder and chief scientific officer of ProVerdeLabs, a medical marijuana testing company in Massachusetts, tells SELF. “So, even if you supposedly had contamination of THC into a well, it would stick to the sides,” he says. “You can make cannabinoids water-soluble, but it would be very, very, very expensive and very difficult. And it would take an enormous amount of THC. I can’t even speculate how expensive it would be to try to contaminate a water supply with THC.”
In fact, Hudalla says experts have been trying to make cannabinoids water-soluble for quite some time in order to give it to patients that way. “It’s been a huge challenge,” he says. “People in the industry have been working on this for years, and a few people have achieved water-soluble cannabinoids—but it requires very sophisticated technology.”
Hudalla is baffled by the fact that Hugo’s tests indicated that THC was in local wells in the first place. “I’ve been thinking about it—how you could get a false positive—and I’m not really sure how you could,” he says. “[The tests] might have reacted to something else, but I can’t imagine any other compound that would react like a cannabinoid would in terms of these tests.”
So, while the mystery of these false positives lives on, there’s no need to worry that you or your family might inadvertently be ingesting THC—even if you live close to dispensaries and/or marijuana-production facilities.
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Photo Credit: Christina Hempfling / EyeEm / Getty Images
Reports that a small town in Colorado had THC in its tap water have been debunked. Here, an expert shares why the claims were suspicious in the first place.