Cannabis and honey
A few years back it was reported that a French beekeeper had trained his bees to develop cannabis-infused honey. The objective of his field experiments was to explore whether the bees indeed feed on cannabis and if so whether the resin from this crop could find its way into the honey. If successful, this could be a way to create cannabis-infused honey as an edible for medicinal applications.
A few seasons of testing proved his hypothesis correct. The bees produced cannabis-infused honey – which was termed cannahoney – and possessed qualities of an edible with perceived medicinal value. Importantly, the cannabis had no apparent effects on bee health, theoretically because these insects possess no internal cannabinoid system and thus no receptors for cannabinoids sourced from the field
Bees and cannabis
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, large-scale cultivation of hemp became legal and prolific. Like other industrial crops, the agroecosystem that was to be produced by hemp was immediately an area of concern for the potential negative effects on insect biodiversity and health. This potential impact included that of pollinating insects and bees.
A study in 2019 sampled insect populations in the vicinity of industrial hemp cultivation sites and found a somewhat surprising set of results. Over 20 different genera of bees were identified indicating sustained nutritional health associated with industrial hemp. A more recent study in 2021 which sampled hemp farms in New York state found similar levels of diversity and healthy populations of bees.
Hemp doesn’t produce nectar or the bright colors typical of luring pollinators, but the pollen-rich flowers may be the ultimate source of attraction. Hemp produces loads of this pollen through the mid to late summer months, which coincides with the period when flowering nectar sources disappear and bees need the nutrition the most.
Hemp and the health of bees and other pollinators
With much of US crop land occupied by non-pollen producing crops, the steady introduction of hemp may be creating a agroecosystem that supports the health and well-being of bees and other pollinators. This benefits not only hemp and other plants propagated by active pollination, but it also provides respite to insects that have suffered in recent years due to habitat loss, chemical pollutants, parasites, and diseases such as colony collapse disorder.
Most recently, researchers in Poland demonstrated a diet rich in hemp extract helped support the anti-oxidant system in honeybees, including increased levels of super oxide dismutase, glutathione S transferase, and others involved in free-radical scavenging and detoxification.
The mutual benefits between hemp and bees may prove invaluable, extending far beyond that of either and into the realm of us humans. What began as a simple experiment may in the end become a success story - rich with a landscape of flowering hemp, happy bees, and of course cannabis-infused honey.
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