Natural Handcrafted Cannabis vs. Gamma Radiation vs. E-Beam Sterilization

BOAZ maintains an open dialogue with our clients at all times.

Transparency is one of our core values, and we take it very seriously. That’s why it is so important that you, the consumer, knows that while we intend to create a totally natural product, we do occasionally sterilize a small quantity of inventory in order to better serve our immunocompromised clientele. However, we never irradiate anything, no matter what.

Otherwise, BOAZ is wholly committed to crafting natural, non-sterilized and non-irradiated products, and so far we have successfully met or exceeded all of the stringent Health Canada lab test standards.

It is widely accepted within the cannabis industry that not every Licensed Holder is willing to uphold such high standards, as it costs considerably more, from seed or clone, all the way through the curing process, to raise the bar.

Sterilization: What is it?

Sterilization refers to any process that removes, kills or deactivates lifeforms (such as bacteria and viruses) from a specified area or object. Sterilization, as it pertains to food safety, and, by extension, the cannabis industry, is fairly widespread, yet relatively misunderstood. One reason for the ongoing debate is that not all sterilization methods are created equal.

Gamma Radiation vs. Electron-Beam (E-Beam) Sterilization

While both gamma radiation and e-beam sterilization are considered safe options with which to sterilize food and medical products, key differences between the two are important to note, as they can affect essential properties, like flavour and potency, within the cannabis plant.

Difference #1: Dose Rate vs. Processing Time

Dose rate, or the volume of radiation used in the process, is the biggest difference between the two technologies. Gamma radiation has high penetration, meaning the radiation seeps deep into the object being irradiated, and a low dose rate. E-beam, on the other hand, has low penetration and a high dose rate. Gamma radiation is best suited to treating large batches of product over a six-to-ten-hour cycle. Compared to gamma radiation, e-beam can deliver a required dose in just one-to-two minutes. The lower processing time, or “dwell time”, in the e-beam sterilization process, which results in lower penetration, is less stressful to materials and enables more flexibility in delivering a specific irradiation dose to small batches of product. Read more about Gamma vs. e-beam processes here.

Difference #2: Effects on Materials

E-beam is friendlier to plastic packaging (such as the kind we use at BOAZ) than gamma radiation. E-beam’s shorter dwell time has gentler effects on materials because the radiation by-products rapidly dissipate after the short exposure to irradiation. As outlined in Iotron Industries’ recent whitepaper, “when the accelerator system shuts off, so does the electron beam—with no residual radiation of lingering chemical hazard.”

Why Differentiating Between Gamma and E-Beam Matters

Neither gamma radiation nor e-beam sterilization makes your food and cannabis radioactive. However, gamma radiation does cause chemical reactions, or oxidation, that alter the chemical makeup, nutritional content and sensory qualities of the organic substance. Food Safety Magazine explains that because of e-beam’s quick dwell time, “Many of the oxidation effects observed with gamma irradiation are not applicable to e-beam processing. Moreover, since the e-beam process occurs much more rapidly than gamma irradiation does, the chances of sensory changes occurring in foods are also significantly lower.”

E-Beam Usage at BOAZ

Initially, BOAZ had not planned to sterilize any products, as the desire to deliver the highest quality natural bud possible is another core value and founding principle. But, we are older and wiser today than when we started out, and after listening to the requests of our immunocompromised patients, we have elected to e-beam a small percentage of each batch to ensure we don’t exclude any person from using our products who need to.

A Commitment to Handcrafting in an Automated World

You may ask, why don’t we just e-beam all of our product if the process doesn’t alter the properties of the bud? An excellent question that we’ll answer in a roundabout way. The reason why the majority of big cannabis companies sterilize (most employ gamma radiation), is because they don’t have clean grows in the first place. Rather than correct the issues and create higher-quality products, big operations opt to irradiate everything, killing pathogens, of course, but also altering the delicate flavour profiles and terpene levels as an undesirable consequence.

BOAZ’s goal in running an ultra-clean and well-tended operation is to minimize, and ultimately almost eradicate, any unwanted pathogens. And we continue to do things by hand, valuing quality over quantity, because we are so confident our customers will notice the difference a handcrafted, clean, quality-assured product will have on their overall experience.

If you have any questions or concerns about the e-beam sterilization process, or if you are just curious about how we keep our operations so fastidiously clean, talk to Bill. He’s our Master Grower. You can also reach out to Bethan, our Quality Assurance expert. Both are ready to share their knowledge and talk shop anytime.