Nova Scotia

Medical marijuana user 'shocked' by recall over hydrogen cyanide risk

First recall notice about unapproved pesticides not for use on marijuana went out December 29, the next one was 11 days later.

John Percy has turned to an illegal dispensary after OrganiGram recall, driving up his monthly bill

John Percy uses cannabis to control pain in his hip caused by osteoarthritis. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

A medical marijuana patient in Lower Sackville, N.S., said he's worried after the marijuana he consumed for nearly a year was recalled by Health Canada because it was grown with two pesticides that, if heated, can emit hydrogen cyanide.

John Percy, 67, smokes, vapes and bakes his cannabis to control pain in his hip caused by osteoarthritis. The former Green Party leader had been ordering his medical marijuana from OrganiGram in Moncton, N.B., the only licensed producer in Atlantic Canada. 

He said his pain was an "eight out of 10." 

"I was shocked," said Percy, when he first learned of the voluntary recall in late December. The letter said the marijuana he consumed "tested positive for bifenazate and/or myclobutanil, both unapproved pesticides and not registered for use on marijuana." 

"I assumed like most patients that the product would be organic," he said. 

Percy assumed the product was organic. (CBC)

According to Health Canada hydrogen cyanide interferes with how oxygen is used in the body and may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Larger concentrations may cause gasping, irregular heartbeats, seizures, fainting, and even death. 

'I got angry'

He said he was willing to take a wait-and-see approach. But less than two weeks later, there was another, higher-level recall notice from OrganiGram saying all products manufactured since February had been recalled.

"That's when I got angry and I started to consider what the effects on me have been," said Percy, who also sits on the board of Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana.

He said he plans to talk to his doctor about whether the recalled medical marijuana he'd been consuming, about three grams a day, has adversely affected his health. 

'Patient safety at risk'

Percy said he's upset that Health Canada did not issue a mandatory recall. Health Canada said no cases of adverse reactions have been reported.

"Putting patient safety at risk is unacceptable, and for a government department that is supposed to take care of people's safety, I think they've fallen down on the job," said Percy.

He said he's written to the health minister and to members of Parliament. He believes Health Canada should test marijuana for more than 13 compounds to ensure it's safe for consumption.

Percy said he and other licensed medical marijuana patients have discussed starting a class-action lawsuit. 

Without a licensed producer, he's going to an illegal dispensary — and paying 30 per cent more for his medication. There's no compassionate pricing at the illegal spot, so his monthly marijuana budget has shot up to about $850 from $600. "It hurts, it hurts," he said. 

He said getting a prescription filled for another one of the 30-plus licensed producers in Canada would take months, but didn't want to wait in pain. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.