Are Reports About THC-Contaminated Hugo Water "Huge Scare for No Reason"?

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Update: Conclusive testing by the state has revealed that there is no THC in the water supply of Hugo, Colorado.  On July 23, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office announced that the initial test kit that started the scare had resulted in a false positive — confirming the suspicions of many in the cannabis community. The water advisory for Hugo has been lifted.

Original story: In a bizarre case of scientific improbability,  the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office issued warnings Thursday about THC in the water supply of Hugo, a town ninety minutes southeast of Denver.

"There were signs of tampering with the local water supply," said Captain Michael Yowell of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office at a press conference Thursday evening. "We will find out more."

In the meantime, authorities in Hugo have warned residents not to bathe, cook or drink any public water, as well as to keep their pets away from the water supply. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has posted its own advisory.

Yowell said that a local water-testing company had raised concerns after a routine field test returned a presumptive positive for THC content. The test reports the presence of THC as a positive or negative, but does not measure quantities of the substance or what kind of THC is present.

"If it is inactive THC, this is a huge scare for no reason," says Max Montrose, president of Trichome Institute, a national cannabis education company based in Colorado. "Delta-9-THC is not water-soluble, it is only fat- and alcohol-soluble."

Based on the information released so far, Montrose says he suspects the testing company likely tested for "residual, non-active THC. THC-COOH is what they look for in urine for drug tests, urine is water-based, and THC-COOH can be detectable for more than a month." 

Social-media comments had alerted the sheriff's office to the fact that THC is not water-soluble, and Yowell acknowledged that at the press conference. "We are aware of the facts that THC is not water-soluble," he said. "I can't explain why we are getting a presumptive positive out of our water supply. The  tampering is what caused the full-blown investigation you are seeing."

Originally, conclusive test results were expected to be announced by 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, but at a 4:15 p.m. press conference, the sheriff's office said they would delay any announcement to tomorrow.

The town of Hugo has 730 residents, none of whom have reported any side effects. Neither medical nor recreational marijuana facilities are allowed in Lincoln County, which has 62 medical marijuana patients.

Bottled water was distributed to Hugo residents at 8 a.m. Friday morning and has continued throughout the day. County officials distributed water to residents until 10 p.m. that night and resumed at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.

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