Background: While little is known about the occupational hazards associated with Cannabis cultivation, both historical research in the hemp industry and preliminary data from modern grow houses, suggest that Cannabis workers may be at increased risk of respiratory and allergic diseases.
Objectives: We sought to investigate the association between workplace exposures and health symptoms in an indoor Cannabis grow facility in Washington State, USA.
Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study with all consenting employees in an indoor Cannabis grow facility in Seattle, WA using a questionnaire. The questionnaire gathered data on respiratory, ocular, nasal, and dermal symptoms. A subset of employees with work-related symptoms underwent repeated cross-shift and cross-week measurement of spirometry, fractional exhaled nitrogen oxide (FeNO), and skin prick testing for Cannabis sensitization. Exposure to Cannabis dust was classified based on self-described tasks, expert opinion, and exposure monitoring of particulate matter. Multivariable logistic regression was undertaken to examine associations between exposure to Cannabis dust (classified as low, medium, and high) and health symptoms. Linear mixed effects models examined the relationship between cross-shift and cross-week changes in spirometry and FeNO.
Results: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the employees (n = 31) surveyed were recreational cannabis users, with 81% (n = 25) smoking cannabis multiple times per day. Twenty-two (71%) employees reported one or more work-related symptoms: 65% respiratory, 39% ocular, 32% nasal, and 26% dermal symptoms. There was a trend toward increased likelihood of work-related symptoms with increasing exposure to Cannabis dust, although none of these results were statistically significant. Of the 10 employees with work-aggravated symptoms, 5 had borderline-high or high FeNO, 7 had abnormal spirometry, and 5 had evidence of Cannabis sensitization on skin prick testing. FeNO increased by 3.78 ppb (95% confidence interval 0.68-6.88 ppb) across the work-week and there was a trend toward cross-week and cross-shift reduced airflow.
Conclusions: We found a high prevalence of work-related allergic- and particularly respiratory symptoms in the employees of one indoor Cannabis grow facility in Washington State. A high proportion of employees with work-aggravated symptoms had findings consistent with probable work-related asthma based on high FeNO, airflow obstruction on spirometry, and Cannabis sensitization on skin prick testing. However, due to the high incidence of recreational cannabis use among these workers, the relative influence of occupational versus recreational exposure to Cannabis dust on the respiratory health and sensitization status of these workers could not be resolved in this study.
Keywords: Cannabis; allergic disease; occupational asthma; occupational hazards; respiratory symptoms.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society.