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In Colorado, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient may have made it into the water supply

In Colorado, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient may have made it into the water supply


Tap water in Hugo might be contaminated with THC

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Hugo, Colorado
Hugo, Colorado
Wikimedia Commons

The tap water in a small town in Colorado may be contaminated with THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. For this reason, residents in Hugo, located about 90 miles east of Colorado Springs, have been instructed to not use the water for drinking and cooking, The Denver Post reports.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana

Officials have tested 10 samples of Hugo water using two different types of test kits and six tested positive for THC. Only one well seems to be contaminated and officials said that the well might have been deliberately tampered with. An investigation is ongoing and the well has been sealed and secured since then. But residents have been told to wait at least 48 hours before using the tap water. More than 2,500 bottles of water have been distributed so far.

No one has gotten sick from the possible contamination, officials said yesterday, and more tests are planned today to actually confirm whether or not THC is in the water — and, if so, at what levels. The results are expected to come in the next few hours.

"We are checking to make sure this isn’t because of the field test kit — that it isn’t a false positive," said Capt. Michael Yowell of Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.

Drinking water contaminated with THC can lead to impaired coordination, increased anxiety, and even psychotic symptoms like hallucination and paranoia, according to the Colorado Department of Health & Environment. The agency warns that these are the "worst-case possible effects" but health effects will vary based on the level of contamination and how much tainted water an individual drinks. Contaminated water is still safe for bathing, showering, brushing teeth, washing hands, and doing laundry, officials say.

The investigation into Hugo’s water began when a local company alerted authorities. The company was testing employees for THC levels, Yowell told The Denver Post. The results were inconsistent, so the company decided to test a vial of the water instead. The water tested positive for THC.

Some, however, are raising doubts about the contamination, because THC and water don’t mix — a bit like oil and water.

The well might have been deliberately tampered with

"The one thing that bothers me about this story from a scientific perspective is that THC is so insoluble in water," Joseph Evans, a former EPA scientist who's now the lab director at a marijuana testing lab in Denver, told The Denver Post. "I can’t imagine, I can’t even fathom the idea that THC would be in water at any type of solubility to create any kind of health hazard."

Yet, officials are saying that the possibility of a THC contamination is serious enough to take precautions. "When you have a presumptive positive of THC in our water supply, we take that very seriously," Yowell said.