Marijuana grown in suboptimal conditions can develop mold. It is also a problem if you don’t cure and dry your weed correctly. Tens of thousands of people are consuming moldy cannabis without realizing it. Inhaling the thousands of microbial spores is terrible news for your health.
If you consume moldy marijuana, the best-case scenario is that the awful taste puts you off the herb entirely. However, if you desperately continue to use it, you could end up in the hospital with a lung infection. You are more likely to buy this kind of pot if you get it from the black market, as reputable dispensaries will dump any moldy marijuana they find. Or at least they will if they want repeat customers.
A Costly Problem
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the industry, moldy cannabis remains a problem. In Colorado, companies have been forced to recall entire product lines because of the presence of potentially harmful yeast and mold. In July 2019, for example, a dispensary named Universal Herbs recalled its products because pre-rolled joints of the Blue Cookies strain tested positive for mold and/or yeast.
In the past, the majority of recalls had to do with excessive levels of pesticides. Alarmingly, however, recalls due to positive mold tests in Colorado have increased in the last two years. During that period, there have been five mold and yeast recalls which have affected 20 Denver dispensaries.
In a bid to combat mold, some companies have fallen back on chemical fertilizers as a means of keeping the problem at arm’s length. The thing is, mold is everywhere because it is part of life on Earth. It is easy to spot on food, but not so simple to identify it on marijuana. Many people say that lingering chest pains after using weed are down to moldy cannabis. However, they could also be due to fertilizers and pesticides.
There are those who believe that the issues surrounding mold are overstated, and suggest that weed with a little powdery mildew is less harmful than pesticides. At present, customers looking for lab-tested product need to pay much more than they would for non-tested weed. Then there is the possibility of the weed developing mold once it leaves the lab!
The operations managers of cannabis farms are charged with finding methods of eliminating mold and yeast while ensuring the marijuana remains suitable for human consumption. Outdoor farms have big issues to deal with. Although cannabis grown outside is not inherently moldy, changing weather conditions can wreak havoc.
Wind transports spores, which spread mold. It is important to remember that every spore is seen as a colony forming unit at a lab, so good weed can fail microbial testing if benign spores are uncovered. A single square centimeter of mold can produce over 2 billion spores! If all of them landed on weed, it would be enough to cause an incredible 450 pounds of herb to fail testing!
Is a Weed Washer the Solution?
‘Yes’, according to Jill Ellsworth. She founded Willow Industries, which has developed a machine capable of decontaminating moldy weed to the stage where it is fit to use. Ellsworth claims that her machine has ‘helped get marijuana out of quarantine,’ and her idea has captured the imagination in Colorado. In fact, her company recently raised around $2 million for funding.
She spoke to Westword, one of the biggest independent cannabis news sources in Denver, about her company’s creation. Ellsworth said it was necessary to use technology already utilized in other industries. She knew that ozone gas was used on contaminants in the food and agriculture sector, for instance, so she decided to try it out on marijuana.
After intense research, her team found that ozone molecules oxidize any contaminants found on cannabis flower, including salmonella, bacteria, mildew, E. coli, yeast, and mold. The molecules attack the pathogens and breaks down the cells to the point where they become unrecognizable. At this point, they are unable to cause illness in consumers. Ellsworth also said that the goal was to clean the weed without destroying terpenes or cannabinoids.
At the time of writing, Willow Industries operates in 10 states. The company had a breakthrough in December 2018 when it helped Doctors Orders, a marijuana dispensary group in Colorado. The dispensary voluntarily recalled its retail marijuana plant material due to issues over yeast and mold. With the help of Willow, Doctors Orders was able to get its weed through state testing.
Wait… What is ozone, and how does it work?
In case you were wondering, ozone is a triatomic atom which can be called O3. It is, in essence, oxygen, because ozone is produced from oxygen. In the Willow Industries system, ambient oxygen gets pulled out of the room it is in by the machine, which then concentrates the oxygen and puts it through an electrical charge.
At that stage, an O-negative molecule is added, so O2 is converted to O3. Next, it oxidizes so the O-negative drops off and is converted back to oxygen. The cycle is constant and involves oxygen with no other gassing. At present, Willow is only focusing on flower, but the company will eventually look into ways to clean cannabis oil. The issue here is that ozone is a gas which makes it hard to use with a liquid.
As for ensuring the flower’s terpene and cannabinoid content aren’t affected, it is a case of proper ozone concentration. If you use too much ozone, you will ruin the flower. Willow has come across the right balance after a lot of hard work and testing. When the weed comes out of the machine, it remains covered in ozone molecules. However, they off-gas and degrade back to oxygen. After three days, the bud looks and smell the way nature intended.
If you go to the company website, it claims to have cleaned more than 13,000 pounds of marijuana so far! It has three types of machine:
- WillowPure 5: This is the smallest machine, and holds five pounds of weed per run on eight trays.
- WillowPure 20: This is for larger operations because it holds 20 pounds of weed on two racks.
- WillowPure 40: As you can probably guess, this is the largest machine and holds 40 pounds of herb per run on four racks. This is the weapon of choice for commercial grows.
If you want to learn more about leasing Willow’s equipment, go to its official website.
Other Options For ‘Cleaning’ Moldy Weed
Now that marijuana is well on the way to legitimate status, we are sure to see even more regulations that will bring cannabis production standards closer to those of food production. In Canada, along with Colorado and Nevada for example, weed must have a total mold and yeast count of less than 10,000 colony-forming units per gram.
There are now various marijuana mold and yeast treatment options, and we have outlined a handful below.
This is a cheap method of reducing the level of yeast and mold in weed. However, it kills the quality unless your plan is to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from it.
Willow Industries use ozone, which is known to be challenging to scale. Overall, this is an inexpensive method that treats the entire batch but is time-consuming. It is also important to note that the gases used are toxic to humans, which means careful handling is essential. Ethylene Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, and Propylene Oxide are also used and are more scalable than ozone.
Gamma Ray Radiation
The use of gamma rays reduces microbial growth and retains potency. It is a scalable, quick, and effective method that keeps terpene and cannabinoid levels high. However, this method also utilizes ionizing radiation that creates new chemical compounds; some of which are carcinogenic. The United States Department of Homeland Security won’t allow this method because it involves using a radioactive isotope to create the gamma rays.
This is the gold standard when it comes to extracting cannabinoids and terpenes to create concentrates. It does a fantastic job of killing almost every toxin and is easy to access. However, it takes a lot of time and expertise and is only for use when creating potent extracts.
This involves spraying your plants with a hydrogen peroxide solution. While it reduces mold and yeast, it also increases moisture, which could cause the germination of benign spores. Also, hydrogen peroxide spray only treats the surface level of the plant, leads to extreme oxidation, and removes terpenes while burning the plant.
This is likely to become one of the primary methods of choice for large scale treatment facilities. It is non-toxic, non-chemical, non-ionizing, and organic. It treats 100% of the product at once, is scalable, and very effective. It retains potency and terpenes. Radio frequency has been used in the food industry for some time now and is likely to make waves. There are machines capable of treating 100 pounds of weed in an hour!
A Summary on the “Marijuana Mold-Cleaning” Machine
The industry has now grown to the point where the standards of marijuana production must increase. Although it remains a federally illegal substance, it is also a multi-billion-dollar industry. Customers do not want moldy marijuana, nor do they want their herb treated with chemicals.
For growers and sellers, the goal is to find an affordable and effective way to ‘cleanse’ weed so that it is ready and safe for use. We can look forward to a future where clean marijuana is normal in legal states, and any company that fails to comply will be severely punished.