Decontamination by gamma irradiation

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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 medicines and food. It is far superior to other alternatives such as the application of pesticides and fungicides or the use of fumigation, chemical treatment or harmful vapor. Producers of medical cannabis use gamma irradiation to sterilize cannabis. Is it a reliable technology for decontamination and why?

Facts about medical cannabis irradiation

Gamma irradiation is currently a very controversial subject. Activist organizations such as the Organic Consumers Association and The Food Commission claim that irradiation damages the quality of production, 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 for humans to digest ... When is it really for cannabis?

For large industries, irradiation is currently the best, cleanest and most reliable technology for removing natural mold from cannabis plants. It 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 to cook and infrared in saunas. Visible light, which helps us find our way, is also essential for food production. A gamma ray designates the high frequency electromagnetic radiation of a photon. We call this emission process 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 rays stimulate the production of vitamin D, X-rays are used to diagnose and treat diseases. Gamma rays to sterilize medical equipment, and the 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. Research results have shown no change in THC, CBD or moisture content.

The study used 4 different strains: Bedrocan, Bediol, Bedica and Bedrolite, covering the spectrum of the sativa and indica strains, and THC as well as CBD containing cannabis.

We do know, however, that many terpenes present in cannabis are destroyed by high temperature processes. The irradiation with gamma rays 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 a few 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 gamma irradiation treatment.

The total THC and CBD content is determined by UPLC analysis. As well as the water content by the LOD (Loss on Drying) method. The study analyzes the varieties before (gray bars) and after (black bars) irradiation.

After analysis, the main terpenes affected were the monoterpenes Myrcene, Ocimene and Terpineol, and sesquiterpenes like 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 in 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 each other when they are present in specific proportions".

Irradiation does not kill the cannabis plant

Indeed, some terpenes are reduced, but no new compound is formed. This means that the terpenes are evaporated to some extent, but not degraded into new compounds. Gamma irradiation slightly accelerates evaporation, but does not kill or destroy the cannabis plant. The amount of terpene lost remains comparable if a bud was left waiting for a week…

“Some terpenes have a somewhat reduced content, because they evaporate in one way or another during the irradiation procedure. However, no new compounds or degradation products were observed. This means that the exact ratio of terpenes has changed somewhat, but the general 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 in concert 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 preserve food. But many groups of activists and patients remained skeptical…

The irradiation process is used under the Health Canada Medical Cannabis Regulations. This ensures compliance with strict standards regarding biological impurities in cannabis for medical use. Unfortunately, no other reliable sterilization technique is known that sterilizes cannabis, while leaving the active components intact. The UV light, steam or harsh chemicals method damages the cannabis plant ...

"We should all hope for the development of new sterilization techniques for cannabis in the near future. "Said Mr. Hazekamp


The study concluded that as long as medical grade cannabis must 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 people who are immunocompromised.

Bedrocan Canada, a partner company of Bedrocan BV, also irradiates the cannabis it sells on the Canadian market.

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 document, Arno Hazekamp, ​​was a full-time employee of Bedrocan BV, the company that supplied the medical grade cannabis used in the research, at the time of the study. Recently, he became an independent consultant for cannabis research.

Tags : cannabinoidsSearchterpene