Hugo, Colorado is a small town of about 720 residents that doesn’t allow marijuana shops or growing. Despite this, the “clean” town found its water supply tainted last week by none other than THC … maybe.
Local officials in the area warned residents to not cook or drink with city water, after field tests showed it was tainted with marijuana’s high-producing chemical. Further investigations by the FBI and Colorado Bureau of Investigations found one of the city’s five wells was tampered with.
The well was closed, but tests indicated the entire water supply was affected according to the county sheriff’s office. The state’s Department of Health weighed-in on the situation and bottled water was distributed to residents. The situation even garnered its own official hashtag, #HugosWater.
Worst-case effects, according to the Colorado Department of Health, included impaired coordination, increased anxiety, hallucinations or paranoia. No such symptoms were reported by residents.
After two days of advisories, turns out the paranoia wasn’t caused by THC — state results found no traces of the chemical in Hugo’s water supply. So, how did the town arrive at the assumption of THC-tampered water? The story begins with employee drug tests.
A local business was conducting drug tests on its staff with field-test kits when it noticed some discrepancies in the results. The company tested the tap water, anticipating it would be a control to gauge an absolute negative test. However, the water tested positive for THC, according to the town’s sheriff.
The company alerted the public works department who found similar results, also with field tests, in one of the city’s wells. The department found the well was tampered with, adding to the mess, something officials are now regarding as a coincidence.
While the scare in Hugo seems to be a false alarm, how possible is it to contaminate a city’s water supply with THC?
First of all, THC isn’t the most soluble substance around. If one were to stir a gram of pure THC into a liter of water, only about three milligrams would dissolve, according to Donald Land, chief scientific officer at Steep Hill Lab, a facility dedicated to cannabis testing, in an interview with Wired. The remaining THC would float to the top of the water.
Colorado residents are estimated to use about 120 gallons of water, per person, per day (mostly for irrigation, but this is state usage divided by population). This means about 325,000 liters of water are used by the city of Hugo on an average day. According to Land’s calculations, this would require about 975,000 milligrams of THC to cause contamination.
Keep in mind, that’s just the THC necessary. A gram of high-end weed has about 150 milligrams of THC. Water contamination for the small town would therefore require about 6,500 grams, over 14 pounds, of potent weed. Even then, the intake would be so low effects would be hardly noticeable, if present at all.
“So maybe the local restaurants might notice an uptick in business,” Land said.
What did the initial tests find when they showed positive for THC? Nobody knows for sure yet. Many rapid tests that are easy-to-use can turn up incorrect results when reacting with substances outside the target, such as the numerous chemicals found in tap water.
While the quality of all tap water is certainly questionable, Hugo residents will have to put down the glass and go back to the legally-accepted means of THC consumption.