Cannabis Irradiation: Canada’s Hot Topic

by | Dec 18, 2018

Health Canada imposed safety requirements that ensure the market and the related products are well-regulated. To ensure that products are free of contaminants, licensed cannabis producers and product manufacturers are using irradiation methods. Approximately 80% of licensed producers are using irradiation to sterilize their products.

Is irradiation as frightening as it sounds? The majority of people associate irradiation with images of science experiments gone wrong, but this may not be the case for cannabis irradiation.

When it comes to cannabis products, safety is of the utmost importance. So, what bearing does radiation have on the quality of the cannabis product?

What is Irradiation?

Radiation is widely used in many applications, even in most people’s homes in the form of a microwave. It is also used to sterilize medical equipment and to perform x-rays. Therefore, we can see that irradiation is not a foreign concept nor is it a new one. In 1958, the U.S government gave their official approval for irradiation to be used in the production of food products. Canada, however, strictly limits the number of irradiated food products to be sold. Only a minimal amount of certain irradiated food products is allowed, and now cannabis has joined this short list.

While the use of irradiation does prove to kill off any and every possible contaminant, it could also do plenty more.

How is Irradiation used for Cannabis?

In the budding cannabis market, the most critical factor is that the products are comprised of clean and pure cannabis. But does that merit the use of irradiation?

Gamma radiation is used from a synthetic and radioactive Cobalt isotope. This radiation eradicates any microorganisms and potential contaminants, thereby ensuring that the product is efficiently sterilized. Industry experts suggest that businesses are using this dramatic method of sterilization as a shortcut to safeguard their products pass Health Canada’s strict standards.

Is It Safe?

This is the current question many involved in the Canadian cannabis industry are asking themselves. On the one hand, the WHO has judged irradiation to be safe. On the other hand, there are those who do not regard irradiation as safe and that the quality of products treated with irradiation should be checked.

Additionally, questions are being raised as to the integrity of the cannabis plant and its terpene profile after irradiation. Because terpenes are responsible for many of the plant’s characteristics, including taste, flavor and certain purported health benefits, there is cause for concern.

How is Cannabis Affected by Irradiation?

Recently, a study was published in the Frontiers of Pharmacology, the results of which effectively echoing these fears; “…irradiation had a measurable effect on the content of various cannabis terpenes, mainly on the more volatile monoterpenes. In general, reduction of affected terpenes was between 10 and 20%, but for some components, this may be as much as 38%.”

Terpenes are essential components within the plant kingdom. In cannabis plants, they are volatile oils that are currently being studied for their various therapeutic properties. Researchers believe that terpenes work in symphony with cannabinoids to present what has been dubbed as ‘the entourage effect.’

However, a separate study published in the Journal, Frontiers in Ethnopharmacology, shows the effect of gamma irradiation on dried cannabis. The research indicated that while no change in cannabinoid profile or moisture content was noted, marginal damage had occurred to the terpene profiles. The results also showed a moderate shift in the precise ratio of terpenes. The study tested four different strains, and the strains differed in their response to the irradiation. However, the overall results suggested that only a marginal change had occurred to the terpene profiles.

The authors did, however, indicate that while these results did not show dramatic changes to cannabinoid or terpene profiles, efforts should be fortified to seek other methods.

If not irradiation, what else?

A Canadian company, Flowr Corp., is answering this question. They have developed a cultivation operation that offers consumers cannabis products which provide the same safety yet none of the irradiation.

Co-founders Tom Flow and Steve Klein decided to focus on growing clean and quality cannabis, without using irradiation as a shortcut. The cannabis products offered through their company meet Health Canada’s stringency without the need for irradiation.

Flowr combines integrated growing systems, strictly controlled growing environments and premium genetics to offer consumers non-irradiated cannabis products that exceed Health Canada’s standards.

The Future of Canada’s Cannabis

Non-irradiated cannabis that surpasses the safety standards set by Health Canada should be the goal for a sustainable and healthy Canadian cannabis market. Statistics from Ontario Cannabis Store sales show that Flowr is burning a new path in the industry, with more sales than the top Canadian cannabis companies.

This indicates a clear avenue in the marketplace; consumers seek quality cannabis that they can trust.