Cannabis sterilisation
In the Netherlands, medicinal cannabis is treated with radiation to kill germs. This approach of sterilisation is controversial. Does it have an impact on the solution, or even on the individuals? Is there a greater way that does not involve radiation?

The discussion about the sterilisation of medicinal cannabis creates two camps. In specific, the process needed in the Netherlands, which utilizes the mildly radioactive cobalt-60, is consistently criticised by individuals as effectively as by some health-related specialists. This is mainly because buyers are traditionally sceptical about the use of radioactive elements, even if this approach has been shown by several research to be harmless, at least as far as meals is concerned. Nevertheless, as however no research have been carried out on irradiated medication that is steamed or smoked like cannabis.

The suggestions and threshold values are strictly defined in EU member states, and so far there are no indications of harm to overall health from the consumption of these merchandise, either as meals or medicine. With its regulation on medicines that are radioactive or have been treated with ionising radiation (AMRadV), Germany has the strictest regulations in Europe for irradiated meals. AMRadV states that all medicines that are processed utilizing radiation have to undergo a licensing approach. This indicates that the cannabis sold in German pharmacies that comes from the Netherlands, exactly where sterilisation with Cobalt-60 is mandatory, ought to have a licence beneath AMRadV, but so far it does not.

Slight modifications in the terpene profiles

In 2016, Arno Hazekamp, who performs as a biologist for Bedrocan and is regarded as a single of the pioneers of cannabis analysis, was the 1st to publish a Study on the effects of low-level gamma radiation on medicinal cannabis. The outcomes of Hazekamp’s study showed no modifications in the THC, CBD or moisture content material of the buds, even though a minimal reduction in some terpenes was discovered. As only a couple of terpenes had been lost, the terpene profile of every wide variety was barely impacted. Nevertheless, the distinction in the general profile was clearly visible in the varieties tested. The samples had been compared ahead of and straight away soon after the common gamma irradiation therapy, and then analysed visually and utilizing evaluation solutions such as gas chromatography and higher functionality liquid chromatography.

In the evaluation, the most impacted terpenes had been the monoterpene myrcene, cis-Ocimene, and terpineols such as gamma-selinene, Eudesma-three,7(11)-diene and gamma-selinene. This might be mainly because these much more volatile terpenes evaporate much more quickly as soon as their molecules are “accelerated” by the gamma radiation. Interestingly, the losses had been not the exact same for all varieties. The myrcene content material clearly dropped in two varieties, whilst in a third wide variety the modify was negligible.

Myrcene is present in higher concentrations in cannabis varieties that smell of “cool forests”. Along with cannabis, it is often discovered in some varieties of pine, juniper, some varieties of amomum, mint, sage, cumin, mango, fennel, tarragon, dill, mugwort (wormwood), angelica and hops. Myrcene is utilized in the manufacture of aromas and flavourings in the perfume business and in pharmaceuticals.

Ultimately, the study determined that terpene content material might be decreased, but that no new substances are designed by the radiation processing. “The gamma irradiation will speed up the evaporation (of terpenes) a tiny, but will not kill or destroy your cannabis.”

Regrettably, the national cannabis agencies in Germany, the Netherlands and Canada have not so far instigated any analysis into the sterilisation of medicinal cannabis or into their terpene profiles. That is why Bedrocan’s endeavours to function transparently and carry out its personal analysis are of very important value. It would, nonetheless, be desirable from the patients’ point of view if the analysis and confirmation of this had been not left totally in the hands of the companies. Other developments in the pharmaceutical business in the final 150 years have shown what this can lead to in an business that is at the moment suffering from a kind of gold-rush fever.

Options to radiation therapy

In the Netherlands there is no option, as radiation is needed by law. In Canada, most companies of medicinal cannabis have dropped gamma radiation and are applying other solutions. The medicinal cannabis programme there does permit irradiation with radioactive cobalt-60. Regrettably, companies there are substantially much less open. Of 3 companies who export medicinal cannabis to Germany, two (Aurora and Peace Naturals) just state that they use other solutions of sterilisation. They do not say what these are. The third manufacturer (Tweed) does not declare something, even though there are suspicions that they use gamma radiation. US corporations presently like to refer to this as “cold pasteurisation”, to stay away from the adverse associations.

Sterilising cannabis: comparing all the options

Option solutions have a tendency to be much more time-consuming, so also much more high-priced. Producers who do not use cobalt-60 radiation normally combine a number of of the following solutions of sterilisation.

Processing with ozone destroys all micro-organisms on the surface, but it is a extremely reactive substance and thus quite ephemeral. Radiation with UV light has confirmed beneficial, but in several circumstances it is not sufficient on its personal. Specialists advise an added therapy with a single of the solutions listed beneath if the manufacturer does not want to use cobalt-60 sterilisation.

To clean agricultural merchandise such as cereals, vegetables, fruit, nuts or herbs, gases like nitrogen, carbon dioxide or inert gases (normally argon) are utilized.

There is also a quite promising new approach exactly where plants are treated briefly with steam. This quite short speak to (20 to 40 seconds) with higher-stress steam at a temperature in between 102°C and 122°C makes it possible for herbs, powders and spice that are sensitive to heat to be decontaminated without the need of affecting their excellent.

Ultrasound cleaning has also yielded some quite promising outcomes in the health-related field in current years.

Fumigation with ethylene oxide kills bacteria, viruses and fungi and was utilized for a extended time in Europe to sterilise meals and medicinal plants. In Germany, the use of ethylene oxide for meals was banned in 1981, even though the gas can nonetheless be utilized in Canada and the US with particular restrictions.

Stringent cleanliness is the very best protection

As the  threshold values also apply to medicinal herbs grown outdoors, it ought to be relatively basic for producers of medicinal cannabis to comply with them without the need of radioactive therapy. Unless you are a manufacturer in the Netherlands, exactly where the law does not leave the companies any other choice.

In contrast to St John’s wort or sage, cannabis is cultivated in hermetically sealed rooms. As neither the Canadian cannabis agency nor the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Health-related Devices (BfArM) prescribe sterilisation utilizing cobalt-60, radioactive therapy appears unnecessary. In view of the present cost per gram of about EUR 24 and the particularly stringent hygiene regulations, medicinal cannabis does not have to have to be treated radioactively just to make positive. Other solutions are undoubtedly sufficient. This is demonstrated by the reality that at least 12 varieties from Canada that have not been treated with radiation effortlessly pass strict checks ahead of getting permitted into German pharmacies.

Illegal sale in Germany

As described above, irradiated buds have to have to have a licence in Germany beneath the AMRadV. Nevertheless, up to now the relevant authorities have not received a single application for such a licence, as confirmed in reply to our inquiry in October. In reality, this ought to be submitted by the Dutch trading companion and authorized by the BfArM in Bonn ahead of the buds attain any German pharmacies. The exact same applies to any varieties that are treated with cobalt-60 from Canadian cannabis suppliers.

Sterilising cannabis: comparing all the options

Strictly speaking, all buds irradiated with cobalt 60 are at the moment getting sold illegally mainly because they do not have the statutory radiation licences. The BfArM has been conscious of this given that at least early September, following a press inquiry, and has so far not noticed the have to have to take any action, neither have the regional overall health authorities who are accountable for bringing the solution onto the market place. No have to have for action indicates that individuals nonetheless do not know no matter if and which Canadian companies use cobalt-60 for sterilisation, nor no matter if the threshold worth is respected in practice.

Passing the buck alternatively of swift action

Right after getting asked about an clear error in the context of a routine press conference, the Berlin Regional Workplace for Wellness and Social Affairs (LaGeSo), the BfArM, the Berlin Senate Administration and the Federal Ministry of Wellness shifted the duty about amongst themselves, alternatively of in fact examining the query is detail.

Right after a tip like this, it would have been greater to take instant measures towards acquiring the missing licences for irradiated cannabis buds from the Netherlands. Germany requirements to inform the Dutch exporters about the missing licences and invite them to send the important papers to Bonn straight away. The import of medicinal cannabis from the Netherlands is currently extremely complicated and needs several permits and certificates. Approval beneath the AMRadV would thus just be a single of several measures that would aid to produce the legally needed and important transparency for individuals and physicians with regards to radioactively treated medicines.

It would not be beneficial to individuals if the German Federal government had been to quit imports now mainly because of the lack of this submission. On the contrary, it is now their job to give clarity and safety and not endanger the standard provide of cannabis buds.