Aspergillus is a saprophytic fungus that helps remove environmental carbon and nitrogen from the earth’s atmosphere. Aspergillus is most commonly found in soil, but its spores propagate rapidly in the air with each fungus capable of producing thousands of conidia. These spores are commonly spread through environmental disturbances and strong air currents, that allow them to be found both indoors and out. Aspergillus spores are tiny, even by biological standards, allowing them to travel great distances in the air.

Why is Aspergillus dangerous to cannabis users?

Aspergillus is especially dangerous to immunocompromised individuals, in whom the airborne spores can lead to a debilitating invasive infection, called aspergillosis, that oftentimes proves to be fatal. A 1992 study found the incidence of cases of aspergillosis per year to be 1 – 2 patients per 100,000 people; however, this number is likely much higher today due to the increased use of immunosuppressants and stem cell therapy. A 1983 study isolated Aspergillus fumigatus spores from cannabis smoke, indicating the spores do in fact survive combustion. There are a variety of factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing aspergillosis including, but not limited to:

  • The ingestion of immunosuppressive drugs (after undergoing bone or organ transplants)
  • Low white blood cell count (resulting from chemotherapy)
  • Asthma or cystic fibrosis
  • Long-term corticosteroid therapy

While immunocompromised individuals are at greater risk of Aspergillus infection, there has been at least one confirmed case of aspergillosis developing in an immunocompetent cannabis user.

There are several hundred different species of Aspergillus, and not all are dangerous to humans. Aspergillus fumigatus is the species that most commonly causes infection, and it has been linked to the death of at least one immunocompromised cannabis user. Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus niger, and Aspergillus terreus have also been shown to cause infection.  

Who requires Aspergillus testing on cannabis?

  • Alaska – Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus fumigatus, and Aspergillus niger
  • California – Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger, and Aspergillus terreus
  • Nevada – Aspergillus flavusAspergillus fumigatusAspergillus niger, and Aspergillus terreus
  • New York – Aspergillus species

Why Use qPCR for Aspergillus testing on Cannabis?

Aspergillus grows poorly on various culture-based microbial tests. As a result, there are no Aspergillus-specific culture tests on the market. This is likely due to Aspergillus forming heterogeneous macro-colonies in solution and thus single CFUs are actually derived from a clump of hundreds to thousands of viable cells.

Only DNA-based testing is able to accurately differentiate between Aspergillus species. This is important because only specific species of Aspergillus cause Aspergillosis, the potentially deadly lung infection. We demonstrated this in our Manufacturer’s Validation Document where we spiked A. brasiliensis into samples and it did not trigger a positive result on any of our Aspergillus detection assays. On the other hand, labs that rely on visual inspection to differentiate Aspergillus species have incorrectly identified A. brasiliensis as A. niger, leading to false failures.

Test for Aspergillus with PathoSEEK

Labs can use our PathoSEEK Microbial Safety Testing Platform to test for A. flavus, A. fumigatus, A. niger, and A. terreus in a variety of cannabis matrices. The PathoSEEK® Platform is the only method designed for and validated on cannabis flower, extracts, and a variety of infused products.

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Available Aspergillus Products

Item # Name Reactions
420130 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus Multiplex Detection Assay 200 Buy Now
420111 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus flavus Detection Assay 200 Buy Now
420311 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus flavus Positive Control 60 Buy Now
420110 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus fumigatus Detection Assay 200 Buy Now
420310 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus fumigatus Positive Control 60 Buy Now
420109 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus niger Detection Assay 200 Buy Now
420309 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus niger Positive Control 60 Buy Now
420129 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus terreus Detection Assay 200 Buy Now
420329 PathoSEEK® Aspergillus terreus Positive Control 60 Buy Now