Is gamma irradiation of cannabis plants for medical use a reliable decontamination technology and why?
Irradiation has more than 50 years of proven use in the production of drugs and foods. It is far superior to other alternatives such as the application of pesticides and fungicides or the use of fumigation, chemical treatment or damaging steam. Medical cannabis producers use gamma irradiation to sterilize cannabis. Is it a reliable technology for decontamination and why?
Facts about the medical irradiation of cannabis
Gamma irradiation is still a very controversial topic. Activist organizations like the Organic Consumers Association and The Food Commission say that irradiation damages the quality of production by breaking down the molecular chains. They claim that irradiation can cause the loss of 85% of vitamins and damage natural digestive enzymes. Which in theory makes them more difficult to digest by humans ... When is it really for cannabis?
For large industries, irradiation is currently the best, cleanest and most reliable technology for eliminating natural mold in cannabis plants. This is a common and approved method for reducing microbial contamination in industries. Although there is some evidence against this process ...
Principles of irradiation
Electromagnetic radiation is essential for life on earth. We use radio waves to communicate, microwaves for cooking and infrared in saunas. Visible light, which allows us to find our bearings, is also essential for food production. A gamma ray is the high-frequency electromagnetic radiation of a photon. This process is called gamma radioactivity.
Gamma rays are more penetrating than alpha and beta particles, but are less ionizing. They are of the same nature as X-rays but are of different origin and frequency. Ultraviolet light stimulates the production of vitamin D, X-rays are used to diagnose and treat diseases. Gamma rays to sterilize medical equipment, and cannabis plant ...
Minimal damage to cannabis
New research on the effect of gamma irradiation on dried cannabis is published in the Journal: Frontiers in Ethnopharmacology. The research results showed no change in THC, CBD or moisture content.
We do know, however, that many terpenes present in cannabis are destroyed by high temperature processes. The gamma irradiation will have almost the same effects ... But the damage remains minimal, and associated with some terpenes present on cannabis.
The main terpenes affected by gamma irradiation
The study finds a decrease in some terpenes. In addition, the general profile is still clearly recognizable between the different varieties tested. To do this, the researchers compare the strains before and immediately after the standard treatment by gamma irradiation.
After analysis, the main terpenes affected were Myrcene monoterpenes, Ocimene and Terpineol, and sesquiterpenes such as the selinene series. The study assumes that more volatile terpenes are more likely to evaporate when their molecules are "accelerated" by gamma irradiation. It is interesting to note that the degradation was not the same for each strain. There is a noticeable reduction of myrcene in two varieties, but not in the third.
The author, Arno Hazekamp, speculates that this "indicates a protective effect that the components of cannabis can have on one another when they are present in specific proportions".
Irradiation does not kill the cannabis plant
Indeed, some terpenes are reduced, but no new compounds are formed. This means that terpenes are evaporated to some extent, but not degraded to new compounds. Gamma irradiation accelerates evaporation somewhat, but does not kill or destroy the cannabis plant. The amount of terpene lost remains comparable if we let a bud wait for a week ...
"Some terpenes have a somewhat reduced content, because they evaporate one way or another during the irradiation procedure. However, no new compounds or degradation products have been observed. This means that the exact ratio of terpenes is somewhat modified, but the overall profile is still very recognizable between the different varieties tested. "Arno Hazekamp
Terpenes are major components of volatile oils that exist in plants, from pines to orange trees, through lemons, lavender and more ... We recognize the terpenes for their therapeutic and aromatic effects. Some act as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and anti-mutagens, etc.
Terpenes work with cannabinoids to create what is called "entourage effect"
Dozens of countries allow the use of this process on food to help prevent foodborne illness and conserve food. But many groups of activists and patients remained skeptical ...
The irradiation process is used under Health Canada's Cannabis for Medical Regulations. This ensures strict standards for biological impurities in cannabis for medical use. Unfortunately, there is no known reliable sterilization technique that sterilizes cannabis while leaving active components intact. The method with UV light, steam or aggressive chemicals, damages the cannabis plant ...
"We should all hope for the development of new sterilization techniques for cannabis in the near future." Says Hazekamp
The study concluded that as long as medical grade cannabis will have to meet strict pharmaceutical standards, as is the case in Canada and the Netherlands. Gamma irradiation remains the safest and most effective method of ensuring product safety, especially for immunocompromised individuals.
The company that supplied the cannabis for the study, Bedrocan BV, based in the Netherlands, is required to irradiate its cannabis according to the Dutch Ministry of Health. In addition, the author of the research paper, Arno Hazekamp, was a full-time employee of Bedrocan BV, the company that supplied medical grade cannabis used in research, at the time of the study. Recently, he became an independent consultant for cannabis research.