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How is Bedrocan’s cannabis irradiated?

All Bedrocan’s cannabis products manufactured in the Netherlands are gamma-irradiated by an external company. This has been contracted by the Dutch government. We have already written about how gamma radiation does not change the medicinal cannabis’ composition and how irradiation is necessary to ensure a sterile product for patient use. However, never before have we offered an insight into how the radiation process works.

Gamma radiation, so-called ionizing radiation, is the same type of radiation used in X-rays. Gamma rays are deadly to microorganisms, including fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Gamma radiation, generated by Cobalt-60 isotopes, is also very harmful to humans. That is why an irradiation company must have a special room, a type of bunker with walls of 2.5 to 3 meters thick concrete, where the products are irradiated. Employees and visitors are not allowed to enter it.

In the Netherlands, mainly medical and hospital equipment is irradiated with gamma rays, such as heart valves, baby bottles, knee prostheses, and contraceptive implants. For twenty years now, medicinal cannabis, which Bedrocan produces in the Netherlands on behalf of the Office of Medicinal Cannabis (OMC), is also irradiated. Sterilization, as the process is euphemistically called, is done 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is fully automated. All kinds of medical products go into the bunker inside a box through a conveyor belt. Cannabis is treated in the bunker for about 1 to 1.5 hours.

In addition to medical equipment and medicinal cannabis, food is also irradiated in some countries. This is done to reduce microorganisms in food and extend shelf life. The EU tracks which foodstuffs are irradiated annually in the European Union. According to the latest figures from 2019, the three most commonly irradiated products are frog legs (65.1%), poultry (20.6%), and dried aromatic herbs, spices, and vegetable seasoning (14.0%). In the EU, the irradiation of foodstuffs is limited and must certainly not replace hygienic conditions. Irradiated food or ingredients must be labeled as such.

However, in America and Asia, food irradiation is more common. This mainly concerns meat and fruit. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), irradiation does not affect nutritional quality or change the taste, texture, or appearance of food.

Nuclear cannabis
Still, patients are concerned. This is mainly due to the lack of clarity on how cannabis is irradiated. While most European countries have clear regulations, American cannabis growers, for example, have unclear rules. Cannabis that has failed a contamination test can be subsequently irradiated so it can still be sold, according to an article by MJBiz Daily. “Generally because of bad microbial growth due to poor sanitation in the grow and processing stages – growers will have to nuke it.”

“Nuke” suggests that irradiation is associated with nuclear contamination or radioactive danger. But is that so? Is nuclear energy released? The answer is clear: Gamma irradiation has nothing to do with radioactive contamination. Some people have negative associations with the word ‘radiation,’ but the gamma irradiation process is entirely safe. The process kills microorganisms and cleans the products. Products sterilized in this way are entirely free of radiation after treatment. In fact, these products are safer after the irradiation process and also have a longer shelf life.

Why to irradiate?
As a natural product, cannabis cannot be 100% free of microorganisms, even when grown in a strict-controlled environment. Non-irradiated cannabis may contain traces of microbes or fungal spores. These can be harmful to health. For example, some Aspergillus fungi, present all around us, can cause severe illnesses. Patients with reduced resistance are particularly more vulnerable. Therefore, governments that make medicinal cannabis available require some form of sterilization.

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