Legalized cannabis may bring new hope to nature’s dwindling pollinators. Bee populations have been shrinking at an alarming rate due to the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides and weed-killers like dicamba. Habitat destruction and climate change have also taken their toll on bee populations.If you’re allergic to bees, you may be doing the happy dance. But for most of us, the lack of bees is going to sting.
Besides delighting us in the garden and annoying us at picnics, bees serve critically important roles in agriculture. According to the American Beekeeping Federation, honey bees add a whopping $20 billion to the value of the US Agricultural Industry. Without bees, over a hundred different crops would be affected. We wouldn’t be able to enjoy some of our favorite munchies, such as:
- Almonds: Almond trees depend entirely upon bees to reproduce. Sorry vegans. No bees, no almond milk.
- Blueberries and Cherries: What would we do without antioxidant-rich blueberries and succulent cherries? Both are 90% dependent on bees.
- Apples and cranberries: Anyone up for apple pie or vodka-cranberry cocktails? Holiday parties would be real bummers without these two.
- Broccoli: Yes, even broccoli needs a little help from our apian friends.
What Does Legal Cannabis Mean for Bee Populations?
Since individual US states began legalizing medical and recreational cannabis and the 2018 US Farm Bill legalized hemp on the federal level, researchers have had more opportunities to study cannabis.
A recent study published in Oxford’s journal of Environmental Entomology has brought new interest in how cannabis cultivation may help bees. The study, conducted by Cornell University, concluded that cannabis plants provide nutrition during times of scarcity. Researchers also found that vast farmlands filled with hemp may provide valuable habitat for bees. This finding is great news for cannabis cultivators who are looking for investors.
The study corroborated research done by Colorado State University. The 2018 study found 23 unique species of bees in northern Colorado’s Cannabis sativa hemp fields. Bees swarmed Colorado’s hemp fields during late summer when flowers are in short supply. The desperate bees started foraging for pollen among the male hemp plants. Though bees prefer the nectar of bright-colored blooms, they’ll settle for cannabis pollen in a pinch.
Just like it does for us humans, cannabis may help bees get through those hard times in life.
Earlier Research on Cannabis and Bees
The Oxford and Colorado studies weren’t the first to find that bees like cannabis. Indian researchers found connections between bees and cannabis much earlier. Though technically illegal, cannabis has long been tolerated in India. A 2012, Indian study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Biological Science also concluded that bees will take up residence in cannabis fields and extract pollen from male plants when other food sources become scarce.
Evidence of bees consuming cannabis pollen goes back to at least 1996 with an earlier Indian study, published in the journal, TAIWANIA. Biologists were studying the diets of bees in the Bhimal region of northeastern India, where farmers cultivate large fields of cannabis. The researchers found cannabis in the pollen loads of bees, proving that bees do indeed consume cannabis pollen.
So, if bees like cannabis pollen, does that mean they’ll make honey that contains cannabinoids like CBD and THC? Bees extract pollen from male cannabis plants, not resin from the females. But that doesn’t stop some inventive entrepreneurs from trying to entice bees with the frosty trichomes of the female buds.
In 2016, Nicholas Trainer, a French beekeeper, successfully trained his diminutive companions to be attracted to female cannabis plants. As a result, they rewarded him with cannabis-infused propolis, which was naturally decarbed in the warmth of the hive. Imagine combining the properties of propolis, royal jelly and cannabis in one jar of honey.
Since Trainer’s breakthrough, entrepreneurs in legal cannabis states have been working on repeating his experiment with hopes of introducing all-natural, bee-made honey to the market. But don’t expect to find bee-made cannahoney on your dispensary shelf too soon.
For now, you’ll have to get by with human-made, cannabis-infused honey. Alternatively, you can try honey-sweetened cannabis edibles like Rebel Edibles’ Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramels or Coda Signature’s honey-sweetened chocolates. Both are available at Euflora’s dispensaries in Colorado.
If you’re a do-it-yourselfer and have your heart set on cannabis honey, you can infuse your own honey using one of the tinctures available here at Euflora. Our tinctures come in several varieties, including:
You can even mix and match tinctures to create your own unique cannabis-infused honey blend.
Can Bees Get High?
With all this talk about bees and cannabis, you may be wondering if consuming cannabis could harm or confuse our tiny friends. Not to worry. Bees won’t land on a flower, forget what they’re doing, and binge-watch Netflix instead of collecting pollen. Bees lack an endocannabinoid system. Receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in humans and other mammals are what allow cannabinoids to work. Without the ECS, we wouldn’t feel the effects of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.
What does cause harm to bees is pesticides. The worst offenders are neonic pesticides that industrial farmers use on crops like soybeans and corn. Manufactured by companies like Bayer, neonics disrupt the nervous system causing confusion and death in bees. Beekeepers have given the syndrome the nickname, “Mad Bee Disease.” The EU banned the most potent neonics, and the US followed suit by banning 12 of the most destructive neonicotinoid insecticides. The US House of Representatives has recently introduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act which would require the EPA to ban all neonic pesticides. The bill gives hope to environmentalists as the current administration strives to limit the work of the EPA.
How Can the Love Affair Between Bees and Cannabis Help the Industry?
Since cannabis is wind-pollinated, the plants don’t need bees. However, the cannabis industry could reap tremendous benefits from the insects.
Bees are attracted to large areas populated by cannabis plants. This fact is sure to encourage environmentally-conscious investors to swarm upon the cannabis industry. Additionally, state and federal funding could become increasingly available to cannabis cultivators.
Furthermore, the positive impact of cannabis farming on bee populations may convince more growers to go organic. Pesticides are just as bad for humans as they are for the bees. Organic cannabis is a win-win solution for both us herb-lovers and our buzzing little buddies.
And if the work of Nicolas Trainer and other pioneering cannabis entrepreneurs becomes fruitful, Euflora dispensary shelves may soon include naturally-infused, bee-made cannahoney. Yum!
We’d love to hear from you. Share your bee stories in the comments below.