Does irradiated cannabis need special labelling?

Published Dec 13, 2021 02:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Jose S

Labels help us by giving us access to pertinent information about the products and goods we use which allows us to make good buying decisions that align with our personal philosophies, diet restrictions, and moral values. With one single glance at a label, we can learn everything we need to know in just a few short seconds, and most people truly appreciate this kind of transparency. We all want to know what’s in the food we eat, products we buy, and flower we smoke, but unfortunately, there’s still far too much that remains hidden, and that is especially true in the cannabis industry.

Does irradiated cannabis need special labelling?

Cannabis producers and processors must include a variety of labels on product packaging, with specific rules that change significantly from one country or state to the next, but there are some common expectations that have become standard like THC or CBD content, company information, and relevant warning labels. However, the majority of regions with legal cannabis markets do not require labelling for irradiated products.

Why does irradiated food need to be labelled and cannabis does not?

We don’t expect cannabis companies to divulge when plant materials or derivatives are exposed to gamma rays in any way, which is kind of strange when you consider the fact that it is common practice in the food industry. Some experts say that this is because of the fat content in food and the reduction in nutrients. Higher amounts of fat increase the risk of creating chemical compounds that may be hazardous to our health when ingested, and the whole reason we eat is to take in nutrients, which are heavily damaged by irradiation, thus resulting in a sub-par product.

The problem with this is that we don’t really have any evidence to suggest that irradiated cannabis is any less dangerous to those who choose to use it, especially in the long term, as the data simply doesn’t exist yet. We know that irradiation can cause several adverse effects when it’s eaten, leading to the requirement for labelling in both Canada and the US, but we have no idea what it will do or if it has any impact at all after combustion and inhalation.

So, while for now, it’s considered safe, it’s a relatively new technology that underwent little to no testing before getting approval from Health Canada and the FDA. For that reason alone, its status could change in an instant, which is why so many advocates are pushing for irradiation labels on cannabis.

Why are contaminants being found on cannabis that has been irradiated?

Irradiation of cannabis and its total impact on consumers is still a mystery as far as safety is concerned, and at least one study has shown that the process damages products by breaking down nutrients, terpenes and terpenoids, adversely impacting quality. At such a high cost, you might hope to learn that it’s at least effective for killing contaminants. Yet still, we’re learning about cannabis recalls at a time when it is estimated that approximately 80% of producers use it.

This is because irradiation only kills live bacteria, leaving plenty of room for fresh mould spores and other contaminants to reproduce during storage, transport, and even while products sit on store shelves waiting to be bought, which means that there are no guarantees with this abrasive technology.

What you need to know about cannabis irradiation


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