Why Radio Frequency Is a Superior Solution to Ionizing Radiation for Both Cannabis Regulators and Consumers

Similar to other agricultural commodities, cannabis must pass regulatory compliance testing for microbial pathogens before it can be legally sold to consumers. Currently, cannabis cultivators have a few options to treat their flower, the most common being: ionizing radiation technology like gamma, X-ray, and e-beam or non-ionizing radiation such as radio frequency.

Although the cannabis industry is new across the globe, a trend in cannabis decontamination tech is already emerging. While both ionizing and non-ionizing tech are equally successful in reducing mold and pathogens, the similarity ends when evaluating the impact on the original product quality. So much so that regulators in Canada and Germany have implemented extra rules for product treated with ionizing radiation to warn consumers of its usage, and states in the United States are discussing the same.

Cultivators have also taken note of the current regulations and ongoing conversations around cannabis decontamination. Seeing the writing on the wall, forward-thinking operators are future-proofing their business and electing non-ionizing solutions for their post-harvest operations.

Ionizing vs. Non-Ionizing Radiation

The difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation goes down to the molecular level..

Ionizing radiation such as gamma, X-ray, and e-beam use high energy wavelengths to penetrate cannabis flower, simultaneously killing mold and pathogen DNA while removing electrons from the atoms and molecules of the flower. This molecular change of electrons essentially nullifies the natural integrity of the flower, eliminating the enzymatic properties of the plant that are responsible for its unique characteristics.

Non-ionizing radiation such as Radio Frequency uses longer, lower energy wavelengths to penetrate the cannabis flower. These wavelengths create an oscillating electromagnetic field around and within the flower, causing its moisture molecules to vibrate in unison with it. This rapid oscillation creates just enough thermal heat to kill mold and pathogens without harming the flower’s molecular structure or chemical or enzymatic content.

This distinction is why regulators remain concerned about cannabis flower treated with ionizing radiation. While states in the US can currently make their own determinations about cannabis decontamination requirements, bellwether countries such as Germany are making decisions on a grander scale. Regulations enacted in Germany are influencing policy regulators in the emerging EU market and having ripple effects in more established markets like Canada.

Current Regulations Against Ionizing Radiation

Germany’s medical marijuana program was launched in 2017 and its recreational program in 2023. Despite both programs being limited, the country still has to import the majority of the cannabis it sells from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Portugal, Macedonia and Malta because of domestic production caps on the three licensed cannabis producers in Germany. To help protect their consumers from imported cannabis that’s been treated with ionizing radiation, the country has implemented AMradV regulations. These rules require cultivators to obtain a license for each strain treated with ionizing radiation, costing € 5,000 and 8-10 months in processing time per registration.

Likewise, in Canada, cultivators using ionizing decontamination to clean their cannabis must label each product with the Radura, the international symbol that indicates a product has been irradiated.[1] Recent trends show Canadian consumers starting to steer clear of cannabis labeled with the Radura because, by Canadian law, if cannabis has been treated with ionizing radiation, it cannot be considered or labeled as organic.

In the United States, cannabis regulators in Nevada have been in discussion for two years about whether or not to label cannabis products that have been treated with ionizing radiation with the Radura symbol. They’re considering the FDA’s current guidelines on labeling food treated with ionizing radiation, which requires the Radura symbol, though a final decision has yet to be made.

Since the cannabis plant remains federally illegal in the United States, cultivators currently can’t qualify as organic operations like Canadian cultivators can. But once the plant is legalized at the federal level, and if the FDA sticks with the same guidelines they currently have for food products treated with ionizing radiation, any cultivator using ionizing radiation will be ineligible for organic status and will have to label their products with the Radura symbol.

Essentially, across the globe, ionizing cannabis remediation costs the cultivator more money in labeling, licensing, and consumer satisfaction.

Other Costs of Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing cannabis remediation has other associated costs outside of regulations. For example, e-beam and gamma remediation must be done off-site, costing cultivators time and money for transportation, insurance, and administration.

X-ray equipment can be installed on-site, though it does require the installation of additional chiller equipment, adding cost and an additional layer of initial permitting and annual renewals.

Radio Frequency remediation, on the other hand, doesn’t call for any extra licensing, labeling, or facility upgrades. It can be done on-site, and the technology has already been screened by the FDA in other applications—a strong proxy for when the FDA inherits the cannabis portfolio.

Ziel Leads the Way for Radio Frequency Remediation

Ziel is the global market leader in non-ionizing radiation treatment with Radio Frequency. Our RFX is easily integrated into an existing operation, requiring zero facility changes. Unlike X-ray equipment, which must be cooled, the RFX can run 24/7, processing 1-6 pounds of cannabis every 14 minutes.

Cultivators who choose Ziel’s Radio Frequency remediation technology have the ability to monitor every batch treated so they can dial in specific treatment recipes for each of their strains. The RFX compliance pass rate is >99%, saving cultivators an average of $1.1 million each year in lost revenue.

ROI snapshot

*CAPEX - Capital Expenditure *OPEX - Operational Expenditure 

Leverage Radio Frequency in Your Operation

As countries around the world continue to dive into the cannabis industry, regulators are prioritizing cannabis remediation laws to protect their consumers. Those cultivators that choose to meet regulatory requirements via ionizing radiation are quickly learning that the associated costs aren’t worth the risk.

Radio Frequency is the safest and most cost-effective cannabis remediation option for cultivators and consumers. Contact Ziel today to learn how to incorporate the Radio Frequency solution into your SOPs, increase your yields, and future-proof your business.