Pot allergies a public health concern, says Yukon man

Now that recreational marijuana use is legal in Canada, a Yukon man says he's worried about being more exposed to wafts of pot smoke because he's allergic.

"It's a human right to be able to breathe air and to walk around in the city of Whitehorse," said Anthony Gucciardo, who works as a nurse in the city.

"People are looking at this as a fun drug, something to take just when you're relaxing. But now it's serious — it's become a legalized product."

Gucciardo said he's had allergic reactions to cannabis before, at home and on the job. He said his breathing is seriously affected — so much so that he has requested not to work with patients who use pot.

"These patients who smoke it will go outside … but when they come back, even after half an hour or so, the scent still lingers and the entire unit is filled with that scent. And I get adversely affected by that."

Gucciardo's also had problems at his condo building, when neighbours have smoked pot inside their units and the smell has drifted into common areas.

"All of the areas are blanketed by this smell," he said. "I'm not the only one who's brought this forward."

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Gucciardo said he's also planning to join his condo board to see if he can address this issue for himself and others.

Under Yukon law, condominium owners could be banned from using pot at home if a majority of owners in the building pass a prohibition bylaw.

In Ontario, a condo board recently banned the smoking and growing of marijuana in the building's units and common spaces after finding out one resident has a potentially lethal allergy to it. The board went ahead with the ban despite residents voting against the rule.

No firm numbers on pot allergies

Cannabis allergies are believed to be rare, but Yukon's chief medical officer of health said that's currently hard to quantify.

"There aren't any firm numbers," said Dr. Brendan Hanley. "I think we need more experience with legal cannabis to be able to have some numbers of allergy [sufferers]."

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"If we see changing patterns of use, it may become something that's more visible and maybe something that we hear more about."

Some doctors have warned that the first months of legalization could see more people try the substance and discover they're allergic.

Experts say cannabis is a relatively mild allergen, but in some cases — especially if a person has underlying allergies and regular exposure to pot — symptoms can be more severe, affecting eyes, noses, lungs and skin.

"Those allergies are starting to come out of the woodwork," Gucciardo said.

Gucciardo said he's written to the premier, his MP, and the city to voice his concerns. He said it's about ensuring that cannabis allergies are recognized as a public health issue. 

With files from Claudiane Samson