Beekeepers around the world have been noticing a steady decline in bee populations for several years. But cannabis plantations could help save bees from extinction because bees love weed as much as humans do, albeit for different reasons.
What makes cannabis so attractive to bees, and how can cannabis plantations save bees from extinction? Read on to find out.
The disappearance of pollinators and the colony collapse disorder
It’s currently estimated that one out of ten bee species is threatened with extinction. In Europe, the situation is so dire that, on the 18th of December, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for targeted measures to protect pollinators in the EU.
You might be wondering why pollinators are so important. Well, pollinators play a crucial role in the production of crops worldwide. Only a few plants self-pollinate. The vast majority of plants depend on wind, water or animals for reproduction.
Even though animals, such as lizards, rodents, monkeys or even humans, can transfer pollen, insects are the most important pollinators. Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps and beetles carry pollen on their bodies from one plant to another.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that, thanks to their direct contribution to food production, pollinators are worth anywhere between $235 and $577 billion. Without pollinators, you would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, apples, blueberries, almonds or chocolate, among other things. More than three-quarters of the crops that make up your food rely on pollination to reproduce.
And bee colonies are disappearing at an alarming rate. The colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon that makes the mature bees in the colony abandon their hive. The working bees leave behind food, their immature brood and their queen and simply disappear without a buildup of dead or dying bees.
CCD has occurred sporadically throughout history and has been recorded since 950 AD in different parts of the world. However, CCD appeared more frequently and affected more colonies in the past fifty years.
Unfortunately, no one factor has been shown to be responsible for the apparition of CCD. Most experts agree that it’s probably a combination of factors that leads to the overall ill-health of bee colonies around the world.
In 2007, some bee colonies in the U.S. experienced 80 to 100 percent losses. Then, during the winter of 2018 to 2019, the honey bee population in the U.S. dropped by nearly 40 percent. Experts say that this population decline might be unsustainable. But this is where cannabis comes into play.
How cannabis could help bee colonies
A single honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip, and each bee makes about 10 trips per day. Bees make so many trips because they need to supplement their colony’s stores of nectar and pollen. This is the only way the colony can survive periods of floral dearth when there’s a shortage of pollen- and nectar-producing flowers.
Unfortunately, the bees cannot sustain this gruelling pace for a long time. Worker bees only live for four weeks in the spring and summer when the flowers are in full bloom. But in the winter, a worker bee can live for up to six months.
And that’s why cannabis plantations could help bee colonies survive. The natural flowering cycle of Cannabis sativa is different from that of other plants. One of the most notable differences is that cannabis changes from its vegetative to its flowering stage when the days begin to shorten and the nights become longer.
The flowering stage of cannabis takes place during a time when other plants have completed their blooming periods and pollinators lack rich nutritional sources. Cannabis flowers do not produce nectar so they present no interest for the bees, but the plant produces a lot of pollen. And that pollen supply might be exactly what bees need during periods of floral dearth.
Male cannabis flowers produce pollen that’s highly attractive to bees. Forager bees collect this pollen and use it to feed their young so they don’t need to rely on their stores for this purpose. Bees need both pollen and nectar to keep their colonies running, so they still need a diversity of blooming plants to gather from.
But cannabis pollen is an important subsistence source for bees in the times from May to June and August to September, during which major blooming flora is absent. Having a reliable source of pollen in proximity helps a bee colony sustain itself during scarcity periods, meaning fewer bee colonies abandon their hives to search for richer feeding locations. This also means that bees can build up their pollen stores for a longer time, possibly allowing them to make fewer trips during the blooming season and thus live longer.
How cannabis plantations could help sustain other crops
Cannabis could help save bees from extinction, but it could also help sustain the pollination of other crops in its vicinity because cannabis plantations attract bees. Tall cannabis plants attract 17 times more bees than smaller ones, so you could say they act like flagpoles that mark the bees’ destination.
The number of bees that visit a cannabis plant increases gradually as time passes, suggesting that the bees inform their hives about the cannabis plantation’s location. Additionally, larger cannabis plantations attract more bees to the area.
And here’s the thing, working bees are nothing like homing missiles. They don’t lock on a target and ignore everything around them in their flight. As more bees come to gather the rich pollen of cannabis, they make multiple stops on other crops in their landscape, pollinating them as well.
Thanks to its specific flowering period, cannabis has the potential to help sustain the pollination of all the crops in the area, attracting a high number of bees to each field. As the cultivation of cannabis becomes widespread around the world, policymakers and land managers should take its attractiveness to bees into consideration when they develop crop management strategies.
The emerging industry of cannabis honey
Allowing bees to feed off cannabis plants might save them from extinction, but it can also lead to the production of innovative products, such as cannabis honey or canna honey. In 2016, the Science Explorer reported that a Frenchman named Nicholas Trainer taught his bees to make honey from cannabis.
Now, many people didn’t think that bees could produce honey from cannabis because the plant’s flowers do not produce nectar. But Nicholas says he trained his bees to obtain sugar from fruits instead of using flowers.
Using this technique, Nicholas managed to get his bees to produce honey out of cannabis resin. No one tested the honey to see how much of the cannabinoids are present in the final product, but Nicholas believes that he created the first all-natural cannabis edible.
And Nicholas wasn’t the only one who wanted to combine the benefits of honey with those of cannabis. An Israeli company called PhytoPharma International had a similar idea. The company feeds bees cannabinoid-infused syrup which the bees process to create cannabis honey.
PhytoPharma International produces a type of non-intoxicating honey that has 0.5 mg of cannabidiol (CBD) per gram and a psychoactive version that contains 0.7 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per gram. According to the company’s representatives, bees transform the cannabinoids into superior molecules, and honey serves as an efficient vector, so the cannabinoids can cross the blood-brain barrier more easily.
It’s difficult to say if the molecules of cannabinoids in canna honey are superior, but the truth is that the emerging cannabis honey industry could also help save the bees and improve global agriculture. Investors looking to produce canna honey might bring bee colonies near cannabis plantations, which would help them feed and pollinate nearby food crops.
The importance of cannabis for bees and the global food industry
Cannabis could help save the bees and it could also play an important role in the global food industry. Cannabis plantations attract bees and their pollen sustains pollinators in periods of floral dearth. Bees that are attracted to cannabis pollinate the food crops in their proximity, improving the local ecosystem.
Many experts believe that the pesticides used in agriculture are one of the factors that contribute to CCD, so cannabis plantations and their surrounding food crops should not be managed with chemical methods of insect control to protect the bees.
In conclusion, growing cannabis plants outdoors without pesticides may very well help alleviate the problem of bee population decline.