#11: of 12 Cannabis Innovators We’re Watching That Are Killing It In All Things Weed
Our plasma process was shown by third-party validation tests to effectively reduce the populations of yeast and moulds on cannabis by up to 99.99 percent.
Tell us about the company’s backstory.
The project that eventually led to the creation of Cold Plasma Group (CPG) started in 2017 with a friendly conversation with Dr. Luc C. Duchesne, an accomplished scientist, and well-respected cannabis industry executive. He talked about the challenges that licensed producers (LP) face in order to meet industry’s regulatory standards, which require cannabis to be nearly devoid of any microbes. This is nearly impossible to achieve under standard cultivation conditions, making post-harvest decontamination of cannabis products an essential step in the production process. While other sterilization methods already exist, such as autoclaving, irradiation with gamma rays or with ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the therapeutic compounds in medical cannabis (cannabinoids and terpenes) are very sensitive to heat and radiation and undergo decarboxylation, causing their decay when subjected to the sterilization processes mentioned above. Dr. Duchesne was searching for an alternative, which led me to the idea that a cold plasma process can be developed specifically for the purpose of sterilizing cannabis flowers without damaging their appearance or therapeutic properties. Following successful experimental trials in 2018 and due diligence on the business opportunity, CPG was created in early 2019 to bring this technology to market. Since then, we have filed for an international patent and completed the research-and-development work to achieve the technical proof-of-concept, to scale-up the process and to implement the technology on custom-made industrial machines.
Why is the sterilization of cannabis so important?
Because cannabis can be used by chronically ill patients, or by patients with a weak immune system, pharmaceutical regulations worldwide (including in Canada) ask that cannabis adhere to strict safety standards regarding the level of microbial contamination. When harmful microbes or fungal spores are inhaled during smoking or vaporization, they may enter the lungs and blood stream directly and cause opportunistic infections. On the other hand, it is impossible to grow cannabis under sufficiently sterile conditions to keep contamination levels below the required safety limits. Even if it were feasible to grow “sterile” cannabis, the multiple steps of the production process, such as harvesting, drying, processing, and packaging would make it nearly impossible to maintain the sterile conditions. Also, it has been shown that cannabis can fail the microbial tests even after being processed, packaged and stored, as the ambient conditions of temperature and relative humidity during storage can favour microbes already present to grow and multiply. If a cannabis product fails the mandated microbial testing, the LP will inevitably experience a severe financial hit due to loss of crop. To give an idea of the scale, the cannabis microbial contamination was estimated to be a $4 billion problem in 2020 in North America alone. Sterilization of the harvested flowers prior to packaging is, therefore, a much-needed step, and the last opportunity for the LPs to ensure regulatory compliance, reduce the odds of storage-related losses to occur, and extend the product shelf-life.
Cold plasmas can be used for many different purposes, such as to clean, decontaminate or create deposits (coatings) at surfaces of materials without damaging their bulk properties.
What is the company currently working on in terms of innovation and technology?
CPG has developed a patent-pending sterilization process for cannabis-based on cold plasma treatments. This process is clean, environmentally friendly, and safe for both the product and workers. It’s free of chemicals and radiation, and it is highly effective at sterilizing without damaging the cannabis quality factors, such as appearance, smell, trichomes, and the concentrations of various cannabinoid and terpene molecules. The most resilient microbes on cannabis are the spores of various yeast and mould species, like Aspergillus, a common mould (a type of fungus) omnipresent indoors and outdoors and known to cause a dangerous infection called aspergillosis. Our plasma process was shown by third-party validation tests to effectively reduce the populations of yeast and moulds on cannabis by up to 99.99 percent. This translated to the average total yeast and mould counts coming down, too. The results for other microbes, such as Aerobic Bacteria and E. coli were equally as good. Once the third-party validation was done, we have scaled up the process and designed machines to fit the needs of the production processes in the cannabis industry. For example, the sterilization process is fast (exposures under 30 minutes) and the plasma machines are inexpensive, have a compact footprint, are scalable with production needs, and are easy to use. All relevant process parameters are recorded and stored on the onboard computer, and separate doors for the untreated and treated products minimizes the risk of recontamination. Our machines can self-clean between runs and have production capacity scaled to the needs of the LPs.
What’s next for Cold Plasma Group?
Cold plasmas can be used for many different purposes, such as to clean, decontaminate or create deposits (coatings) at surfaces of materials without damaging their bulk properties. They are particularly useful for treating organic materials, which are sensitive to heat and radiation. However, despite accounting for about 99 percent of all matter in the universe, and decades of scientific research, plasmas are not widely used on an industrial scale, seen by many as being largely exotic processes.
CPG is planning to help change the “plasma game.” Building upon the success of the sterilization technology for cannabis, we will develop custom plasma processes and machines for industrial-scale implementation in many industries, such as the treatment of seeds, food and the sterilization of protective equipment, such as personal protective equipment. The treatment of seeds is an area we are extremely excited about; here, cold plasmas can be used to remove pesticides, mycotoxins and to promote germination rates and plant growth, leading to increased crop yields and shorter harvest times. We are also looking to create safe and environmentally friendly alternatives for manufacturing, to hopefully displace the current chemical processes, which are energy-intensive, toxic and polluters for the environment.