Irradiation is unfeasible and unnecessary for many cannabis farmers

Published Jan 10, 2022 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Jasmit aka Jaz Singh

Irradiation is very quickly becoming standard practice in the cannabis industry, in particular for large-scale producers that rely on the power of gamma rays to eliminate pesky contaminants like mould and bacteria that could pose a hazard to consumers. This cleansing technique is sometimes considered to be a necessary step for large-scale cannabis farmers who have less control over things like the environment, but it’s been widely avoided by small-scale cultivators for several different reasons.

Micro growers pride themselves on natural practices

Not all, but most micro and small-scale cannabis producers refuse to use irradiation, and for the majority, it’s about keeping the process as organic and natural as possible, a moral stance that is deeply ingrained in the culture. Most who turn to cannabis do so because it’s a completely natural plant versus pharmaceuticals that are filled with man-made toxins and chemicals, and these growers recognize the value of this strong selling point. They’re already avoiding other chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, so it really wouldn’t make sense to add radiation to the equation, even if they did believe its effectiveness.

Customers don’t want it

You will never ever hear cannabis enthusiasts talk about how badly they want irradiated cannabis because we tend to associate the word radiation with bad things, like awful genetic deformities (thank you, horror movies) and poison. Just saying radiation is often enough to turn a person off from any kind of product, and that is also true with cannabis. The rare few who do seek out products that have been irradiated are generally immune-compromised, and they’re given this recommendation by doctors who are giving this advice with very little, if any, proof that it makes a genuine difference.

Irradiated cannabis is a damaged product

Big cannabis companies go to bat over their decision to use irradiation, with most claiming that the process does nothing to take away from the cannabinoid experience. The problem with that is we have very little if any evidence to suggest that’s true. In fact, the few studies we have seen on the topic clearly prove that terpene, cannabinoid, and vitamin content are often significantly damaged after the application of radiation, which would result in a product that doesn’t taste, smell or work anywhere near as well as it should.

The extra expense

Cannabis farmers and processors face steep operating costs every step of the way, from seed to sale, and large companies are able to recuperate more of that expense by cultivating massive amounts of product in each facility. Small scale producers, on the other hand, focus more on quality than quantity, so naturally, they have far less to sell come harvest while paying all the same bills. This is a delicate balancing act and cutting out extra unnecessary steps like irradiation can save millions of dollars, savings that can be passed down to consumers through competitive pricing.

Irradiation isn’t necessary

Very few cannabis companies are transparent about the way they choose to remediate contaminated or even potentially contaminated products because it just doesn’t sound or look very good on them. However, few have chosen to embrace the practice openly, likely just in case they are ever forced to be transparent with consumers, leading to a sudden shock after a big reveal, so instead of hiding it, they advocate for irradiation by claiming that it’s always and only done in order to protect customers as if they’re doing us some kind of favor by going the extra mile when the reality is that it shouldn’t be necessary.

With good growing practices and a wide range of alternative remediation and sterilization options, there is simply no need to take this easy and potentially harmful way out. Cannabis isn’t teeming with mould or pathogens if it’s cultivated with care, and when it is, then irradiation is only a band-aid that will never fix the real problem at hand.

What you need to know about cannabis irradiation


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