he tragic case underscores the potential respiratory dangers faced by workers in the burgeoning cannabis-processing industry. Led by Dr. Virginia Weaver of the U.S. Department of Labor, the research team emphasizes the importance of recognizing cannabis production as a potential cause of asthma in the workplace.
The young woman initially worked in an area where cannabis was ground, but she later transitioned to “flower production,” involving the grinding of cannabis plant flowers and preparing cannabis cigarettes. Despite using an N95 mask and protective gloves, the dust generated during these processes visibly escaped into the air. Even with the use of a non-HEPA shop vacuum to collect dust from the grinder, the risk remained.
As her symptoms worsened, the woman’s workstation was moved outside the grinding room. However, on Nov. 9, she suffered a severe asthma attack that prompted emergency medical services to transport her to a local emergency department. Although she recovered, subsequent investigations revealed that her albuterol nebulizer had been used over 200 times in the following two months.
Tragically, on Jan. 4, 2022, the woman informed a co-worker that her shortness of breath was worsening. Later that day, while at her workstation, she experienced a severe cough and profound shortness of breath, ultimately leading to cardiopulmonary arrest. She passed away three days later.
This case highlights the broader issue of new-onset asthma among cannabis facility workers, as indicated by studies conducted in Washington state. In one study, 13 out of 31 employees at an indoor cannabis production facility exhibited symptoms suggestive of asthma. Another study found seven cases of “work-exacerbated” asthma among cannabis facility workers in the state, leading three individuals to resign due to the severity of their symptoms.
One striking instance involves a worker who experienced symptomatic asthma at one facility, left the industry for two years, and then resumed work at a different cannabis facility, only to experience a recurrence of symptoms. These findings underscore the need for increased awareness, safety measures, and further research to address respiratory risks in the rapidly expanding cannabis-processing sector.