University of New Haven Developing New Testing for Marijuana

By Shawn Dwyer 12/03/13

University professor Heather Miller Coyle plans to develop a new DNA profiling and sequencing method to detect nasty microscopic contaminants.

The mask filters E. coli, right?
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Next time you decide to toke up, remember that the weed you’re smoking may contain mold, insect parts, salmonella, E. coli, and other harmful microscopic substances that you’d never know were there.

The existence of such contaminants has prompted Professor Heather Miller Coyle, a forensic botanist and associate professor at the University of New Haven, to begin developing a new process of detecting the harmful substances. Along with her students, Coyle plans on developing a new method for creating DNA profiles of such biological contaminants as mold, mildew, and bacteria in order to compare the profiles to organisms maintained in a database by the National Center for Biotechnology. "What we're trying to do is put the information together in a user-friendly format," Coyle said. "Having some better technology in place is a good thing." The ultimate goal is to make it faster and easier for lab-testing facilities across the country to identify potentially harmful microbes in pot.

With twenty states and Washington, D.C. allowing medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use in 2012, it makes sense for newer, more accessible testing to be developed, though the effects of marijuana tainted with mold and other contaminants remain unclear. "Although we have not seen significant problems with tainted marijuana in the past, we should certainly be taking steps to make sure it's not a problem in the future," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Colorado-based lobby group Marijuana Policy Project. "We have never seen a death solely associated with marijuana use. The same certainly can't be said of alcohol and other drugs."

Still, the Food and Drug Administration has records that have shown marijuana as being a secondary cause of 279 deaths from 1997-2005. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in July 2013 that there is a rising tide in synthetic drug use that has led to a number of deaths.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.