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Lately there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the safety of processes used to de-contaminate medical grade marijuana, namely the use of gamma-irradiation to ensure the absence of harmful mold spores. Is there a legitimate reason for concern, or are these concerns overstated and greatly outweighed about the real and proven harms of mold?

While the best policy to deal with contaminants in marijuana is one of exclusion in which marijuana is carefully cultivated and processed to minimize the number of contaminants present, from a practical standpoint, an extra step must be taken for quality assurance purposes and the protection of the consumer. Even the most stringent inspection regimes for marijuana producers wouldn’t ensure that contaminants are eliminated in all instances.

There is always the possibility of a rouge crop that has been contaminated for one reason or another, despite the utmost care. For this reason gamma-irradiation is absolutely necessary to guarantee the safety of the marijuana that is being supplied to patients.

While the safety of using low levels of gamma-irradiation is disputed, ceasing its use out of an abundance of caution is not a viable option. The scientific evidence in favor of its use is more robust than the evidence employed by its critics and rather than err on the side of caution, we must err on the side of the more immediate and apparent health risks of contaminated medication. Generally, many people with ailments that are effectively treated by marijuana are very susceptible to the harms posed by mold contaminated medication. On top of that, there is no alternative means of decontamination that is as effective as gamma-irradiation that don’t also have risks much more apparent than those touted by opponents of its use. The alternatives are also deficient in that none of them result in the degradation of microbial antigens or toxins.

The motives of those opposed to the use of gamma-irradiation are also worth questioning. Much of the complaint stems from government systems in Canada and the Netherlands for producing and distributing medicinal marijuana. Both governments use gamma-irradiation for the purpose of decontaminating marijuana distributed in those countries but there have been numerous complaints from patients as to the quality and potency of the marijuana with which they are being provided. It is notable that the criticism is not that gamma-irradiation is responsible for the lack of quality and inconsistency, but that its safety is unproven. As any potential dangers of gamma-irradiation are as equally unproven, perhaps this line of criticism should be taken with a grain of salt and seen as a bit of a red herring used by those who are generally opposed to the government control schemes in place in these countries. An argument used by some to cast as much suspicion as possible on a specific government program with which they do not agree should not be used to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the use of gamma-irradiation. Whether people should be able to opt-out of having marijuana that has been decontaminated and whether gamma-irradiation is safe and effective are two separate questions that should not be conflagrated.

It is also important to remember that the debate over the safety of gamma-irradiation should not be likened to the debate over GMO foods. The precautionary principle doesn’t apply to gamma-irradiation as it does to GMO crops. Whereas it is questionable whether the benefits of GMO crops outweigh the possible risks, the harms associated with the failure to decontaminate medication are much more immediate and acute. Consuming tainted medication just once is enough to trigger some of the serious symptoms experienced by those who are suffering from an illness treatable by the use of marijuana. This level of risk is completely unacceptable and can’t be ignored in favor of taking precautions against hypothetical and unsubstantiated risks.

In conclusion, while we fully support any and all efforts to find alternatives to the use of gamma-irradiation as well as the employment of best practices in regards to cultivation to ensure that toxins aren’t present to begin with, at this time we believe that the use of gamma-irradiation is a viable option to ensure the safety of patients who are at a much higher risk than the general population from the immediate dangerous of tainted medication. While arguments against the use of gamma-irradiation may have some merit, the claimed dangers have not yet been substantiated to a degree where it can be practically argued that smoking marijuana that has been irradiated is more dangerous than smoking contaminated marijuana. Arguments against the use of gamma-irradiation are also clouded by distortions of facts that have been used to support a political agenda and do not rise to the level of concern that would warrant the immediate cessation of the process in the face of the proven dangers of contaminated medication.

Dan Drevin
Dan Drevin
Patient advocate and I also run a financial services advisory firm in Metro Detroit.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar Jackie Woerlee says:

    Gamma irradiation does not eradicate mould spores…
    This is perhaps the biggest misconception about this unholy and unsafe procedure and now also proven to be ineffective too.
    So patients in the NL don,t only suffer from ineffective cannabis .. but from ineffective gamma radiation perpetrated on an inferior product and then put in unsterile inadequate packaging too.
    This is a crime and torture!

  2. Avatar Steve says:

    And this is one of the reasons I am returning to black market weed.

    It’s a higher quality, lower price, more reliable service and not radioactive.

    Only Government and Corporations could screw up something as simple as selling weed.

  3. Avatar J says:

    So less potent medicine is more smoking and coughing than help… Cool, so why would you advocate it’s use? When you find pests after flower you trash all the bad plants and take the loss not irradiate it and sell it to medical patients. Bubble hash over gamma radiation any day.

  4. Avatar no says:

    I will stick to black market weed then thanks…

    Particularly when you start talking pro GMO…

    Keep your weird science out of my life.

    • Avatar Robert says:

      I develop X-ray based irradiators for use in biological studies. The recent market development of medical marijuana has begun to look into treating marijuana as a standard agricultural product. I will not go into GMO vs Organic as I am not an expert on the subject. However; I can speak to say that irradiating organic material does not make the product radioactive. This is a common misconception among the general population which is simply not true. Irradiating organics is not the practice of sprinkling radioactive material onto the product. This does not happen. But it is using the energy release from a radioactive source in order to sterilize and kill the bacteria. Radiation is just invisible light with a different wavelength than what you get out of your flashlight. Your concerns are the same as fearing to eat something you pulled out of the microwave because the microwave radiation would poison you.
      consider the sun, if you stand outside in the sun for a period of time your skin will burn. But if you go inside, away from the sun’s UV radiation, then you don’t continue to burn. Same concept.
      The alternatives to gamma/X-ray are using UV, which alters the chemical composition of the weed as well as the effects. Or chemical sterilization.

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