Cannabis Decontamination: Radio Frequency vs. Cold Plasma

Explore the Differences Between the Two Remediation Technologies

As the cannabis market continues to expand across the globe, growers, manufacturers, and lawmakers are turning their attention to cannabis microbial treatment technologies and what each kind means for the plant and the consumer. Producers and regulators alike are leaning toward non-ionizing decontamination solutions like Radio Frequency (RF) and cold plasma over ionizing technologies like gamma, e-beam, and X-ray, particularly because of their effects (or lack thereof) on the flower, and subsequently, the consumer.

There are some distinct differences between non-ionizing techs like RF and cold plasma, however, that cannabis growers and regulators should consider before choosing one over the other. Keep reading for a deep dive into the differences between the two and what they could ultimately mean for the consumer.

Key Differences Between Radio Frequency and Cold Plasma

Learn the definition, treatment effectiveness, and USDA status / EUGMP qualification status of RF and cold plasma.


Radio Frequency Microbial Treatment

Radio Frequency treatment works by penetrating cannabis flower with long, low-energy wavelengths that create an oscillating electromagnetic field around and within the flower, down to the core of the bud. This causes the flower’s moisture molecules to vibrate with the electromagnetic field, creating thermal heat that kills mold and pathogens but doesn’t harm the flower’s molecular structure or chemical content.

Cold Plasma

Plasma is commonly considered the fourth state of matter and is created by initiating a high-voltage electrical charge within a gas, in turn creating a cloud of electrons, ions, photons, and free radicals. These particles have excess energy that they essentially “transfer” to whatever comes in contact with their cloudlike form. When they come in contact with cannabis flower, they trigger oxidative reactions on the surface of the flower, poking holes through the membranes of fungi, bacteria, and mold spores as well as damaging their DNA.[1

“Because it generates free radicals, the use of Cold plasma raises concerns about the potential unintended consequences and health risks, emphasizing the necessity for thorough safety assessments in its applications.” - Parastoo Yaghmaee, Ph.D. | VP, Research & Development at Ziel

Treatment Effectiveness

Radio Frequency Treatment

RF penetrates the entire cannabis flower, disinfecting the inside and the outside of the bud. In doing so, it cleans the entire flower, protecting consumers from inhaling mold spores and producers from failing regulatory testing. The process is so effective it guarantees a compliance pass rate that’s greater than 99 percent.

RF is a thermal process, but its energy is low enough that the heat it creates doesn’t degrade or decarb the cannabinoid or terpene content of the flower. The process doesn’t use any chemicals or ionizing radiation and leaves no residue behind.

Cold Plasma Treatment

Cold plasma, on the other hand, only eliminates mold and pathogens located on the surface of the flower, ignoring any spores or bacteria that have reached the core of the bud.

For example, “bud rot,” or Botrytis, which is a common mold in cannabis grows, tends to infect the stem within the core of a cannabis flower first.[2] Surface-level remediation likely wouldn’t penetrate deep enough to attack this type of pathogen.

Cold plasma treatment has also shown to have little effect on cannabinoid and terpene content, and some cold plasma treatments have shown a more than 99 percent pass rate for regulatory compliance.

USDA Recognition + GMP and EU GMP Qualification

Radio Frequency Is Organic

Although a fairly new decontamination technology (the first tech was released to market by Ziel in 2008), RF remediation is already used in agriculture, particularly in the food sectors of nuts, seeds, dates, and prunes. Because of this, the USDA has already looked into the technology and deemed it compliant with USDA Organic standards. Foods treated with this solution can earn the label of USDA Organic, and it’s assumed that once cannabis is federally legalized or rescheduled, cannabis operations that use RF remediation (and meet the other USDA standards) will be able to earn the USDA Organic label as well.

RF has also been approved for incorporation into GMP and EUGMP-certified operations.

Cold Plasma Is Currently Undetermined for Organic Status

Cold plasma is also new to food remediation, with studies on the technology’s effect on food starting around 2000. Despite being introduced  before RF, it’s still unclear whether or not cannabis treated with cold plasma would qualify for USDA Organic status once the plant is federally legalized or rescheduled. Currently, this treatment option is not yet approved by the USDA or the FDA for food.

Tech on the Market

Radio Frequency with Ziel

Ziel offers patented Radio Frequency remediation for the cannabis industry with its RFX. This machine can run 24/7, processing up to 160 lb of cannabis every 8 hours. Batches treated with it pass regulatory compliance more than 99% of the time. This is largely due to Ziel’s creation of customized decontamination recipes that are designed around the specific growing conditions and strain of each batch that’s run through the machine.

Cold Plasma Tech

The current cold plasma decontamination machine on the market for cannabis does not offer the ability to customize treatment recipes and instead comes with pre-set recipes. Its processing capacity and machine up-time are not currently advertised. It claims a similar regulatory compliance pass rate.

Get in Touch With Ziel Today

If you have more questions about the differences between RF and cold plasma, or if you’re ready to get started with Radio Frequency microbial treatment, get in touch with us today. Our team is happy to help you explore the best remediation option for your operation.