Pubdate: Tue, 14 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A1


Patients who consumed tainted medical marijuana from
government-regulated suppliers are questioning how safe the industry
is in the wake of several high-profile recalls due to banned
pesticides, which have exposed serious gaps in Health Canada's oversight.

After a string of recent recalls by Mettrum Ltd., OrganiGram Inc. and
Aurora Cannabis Inc. because of the presence of myclobutanil - a
banned pesticide that produces hydrogen cyanide when heated - a number
of patients told The Globe and Mail they don't see how Health Canada
can assure them the product can be trusted. Revelations that the
government isn't testing regularly to prove all companies aren't using
harmful chemicals have left consumers concerned for their health.

"I think this has probably given everybody a wakeup call," said Patty
Wade, a Mettrum client in Trenton, Ont., who was prescribed medical
cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder. "When you are trusting a
company to be healthy, you would have thought that the government
would have ensured this."

Last week, Health Canada acknowledged to The Globe it had not been
testing product from the 38 federally regulated medicalmarijuana
growers to ensure they weren't using banned chemicals.

Instead, the department said the companies knew pesticides such as
myclobutanil were banned and the companies had been left to police
themselves) However, Thomas McConville, a former Mettrum employee,
told The Globe he witnessed company employees spraying myclobutanil on
plants to combat a mildew problem in 2014, even though they knew the
chemical - a known carcinogen - was banned. To evade detection when
Health Canada inspectors visited the facility, a Mettrum employee hid
the pesticide behind the ceiling tiles in the company's offices,
knowing the department wasn't testing the plants, Mr. McConville said.

Health Canada has since attached new conditions to the licences of
Mettrum and OrganiGram, requiring their product to be tested for
banned pesticides. And last week, the department announced random
tests for the rest of the industry, which it hopes will ensure other
companies aren't breaking the rules.

Without regular testing, though, there is no way to be certain which
companies are producing clean product, patients say. Ms. Wade, a
former nurse, said there is little certainty which companies are safe
to buy her medicine from.

"What I'm hoping is that this has put such a spotlight on it, that the
government is going to step up its processes and look into all of the
licensed producers," Ms. Wade said. "I don't understand why they
haven't been testing … So what are going to be the safeguards for us,
the consumers?"

The licensed producers are already expected to test for mould and
bacteria in their products before selling them. Health Canada said
last week that, for now, it's not planning mandatory testing for
banned pesticides. "We have a couple of cases right now. I wouldn't
want to extrapolate that that's an issue that would be happening at
all our LPs [licensed producers.]," a senior government official told
The Globe.

Still, it's impossible for Health Canada to know how big the problem
is. The Globe has talked to more than 20 patients affected by the
recalls, and several of them say their confidence in the safety of the
industry has been


"Presumably it's out of the product now - although who can even say
that?" said Dawn Rae Downton, a patient in Halifax who was prescribed
medical marijuana last March for severe back pain that prevented her
from sleeping, and purchased her product from OrganiGram. "I see it as
a consumer-protection issue, and I see it as an astonishing lack of
oversight on the part of Health Canada."

In a submission to Health Canada, known as an Adverse Reaction Report,
Ms. Downton told the department she suffered "severe, intractable
nausea, vomiting and anorexia," which "continued relentlessly daily
for nine months, resolving to a tolerable degree about five weeks
after I stopped using the cannabis."

OrganiGram announced it was recalling her products in December,
because of the presence of myclobutanil. Ms. Downton's symptoms are
similar to several of the known effects of low-level hydrogen-cyanide
poisoning on the body.

Health Canada has referred to the amounts of banned pesticide it
detected as "trace amounts" that are "low risk." However, Warren
Porter, a top U.S. toxicologist, questioned that response last week,
saying, "There is no data I am aware of that would give those
assurances. "Ultra-low doses can have all kinds of biological effects,
especially over longer periods of exposure," said Dr. Porter, a
specialist in molecular and environmental toxicology at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ms. Downton is now worried about her health. "I inhaled hydrogen
cyanide every day for eight months," she said.

Another patient told The Globe he chose to use medical marijuana for
pain relief because he didn't want to use opioids. He selected a
government-regulated supplier, Mettrum, because he wanted to ensure
the product was safe and clean.

"I made a choice to go the medical-marijuana route, despite paperwork,
numerous medical appointments and cost, because I wanted to feel safe
about what I was putting in my body," said the man, who requested
anonymity because he didn't want to disclose publicly he was using
medical marijuana. "I felt this was safer."

The man said he is reluctant to purchase new product. "I don't trust
the replacement product is safe," he said.

Only Mettrum and OrganiGram are now required to submit to regular
testing for myclobutanil. The third recent recall, at Aurora Cannabis,
came after that company purchased a bulk supply from OrganiGram, which
it resold to its customers.

Since the recalls were announced in December, Mettrum was sold to
Canopy Growth Corp. for $430-million. Mettrum chief executive Michael
Haines has not responded to requests for comment. Mr. Haines is no
longer with the company.

Canopy CEO Bruce Linton said the company is working to correct the
Mettrum problems. Mr. Linton said he is in favour of routine testing
to prove to customers the product is free of pesticides, which his
company is adopting.

"The supply chain has to be completely trustworthy, and showing that
you get that means that you will routinely and actively test and
confirm this is on track, this is following the rules, there isn't
what you wouldn't want in it," Mr. Linton said.
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MAP posted-by: Matt