Insects lack CB receptors so how can bees see the benefits of hemp?
Spring brings budding trees, the songs of birds, and chubby bees buzzing from flower to flower. But, if you keep a close eye on where those bees travel, it seems they may be reaping the benefits of hemp.
While they certainly will not be using hemp for rope, hempcrete, and paper like humans do, the authors of a recent study published in Biomass and Bioenergy say bees find their own unique benefits of hemp.
Another paper published in PLoS One outlined in 2015 showed that bees seem to have a keen talent for sniffing out cannabis. In it, Schott et al. looked into the alternatives to increasingly obsolete drug-sniffing dogs as cannabis laws relax. They found this hidden talent in our bumble friends.
The researchers found was that Apis mellifera, the common honeybee, may be able to detect certain drugs. In fact, they could do it so well that the researchers suggested that the honeybees could replace the work of drug-sniffing dogs.
Can Bees Really Benefit From Hemp?
However, what we’re focusing on here is the bee’s ability to smell out certain compounds. It’s an important part of their physiology. But how does it actually benefit the bees themselves? Do bees have an endocannabinoid system that helps them experience the benefits of hemp?
This is a far more fascinating question than one might realize. In the field of comparative biology, there is only one type of neuroreceptor missing in insects that are present in mammals: cannabinoid receptors (CB receptors).
The researchers of a 2001 study published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology, hypothesized that insects may have lost their CB receptors because they don’t produce enough arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is the acidic precursor to endocannabinoid ligands such as 2-AG and anandamide.
Since insects don’t seem to be able to consume cannabinoids and reap all the benefits, why would they ever visit a hemp field? O’Brien and Arathi decided to try to answer this question.
The researchers found 23 different species of bees harvesting pollen from the hemp fields in northern Colorado. This was during a time that “coincides with a dearth of pollinator-friendly crop plants in the region, making hemp flowers a potentially valuable source of pollen for foraging bees”. Simply put: they love the pollen when they need it the most.
Since bees appear so keen to forage for pollen from hemp, it may be possible to develop an integrated pest management solution for hemp production that includes bees.
Can Bees Help Provide Us With The Benefits Of Hemp?
Although the federal government recently legalized hemp farming, its production is isolated to its own sector. That is, most crops require the use of herbicides, pesticides, or other compounds to ensure maximum yield. However, according to The New York Times Magazine, hemp farmers aren’t allowed to put such compounds on their crops.
Luckily, it seems that hemp is a crop that doesn’t need such invasive methods of care. In fact, the most intervention these crops may need is a cadre of beehives foraging for pollen from their flowers.
Since bees are so good at detecting cannabis, have such an affinity for its pollen, and provide a non-invasive means for hemp care, it seems they play an integral role in hemp production.
In one way, it’s also another one of the many benefits of hemp. If hemp doesn’t need volatile compounds like other monocrops, then the flora and fauna of the region will suffer fewer negative consequences.
Furthermore, there’s a bee trainer in Spain who found a way to train bees to create THC-laden honey. While most bees make their honey through the nectar they collect, Nicholas Trainerbee, trained his bees to chew off resin and process it into propolis, which is a waxy substance that’s been touted to produce a range of benefits. The heat of the hive activates the THC over time. It is a precious substance that is produced in quantities so small, that production and sale would be impossible. Trainerbee reports that he saves the infused propolis for special guests and friends.
So, if you’re looking for the benefits of hemp, bees may help you pollinate it and make infused bee by-products. It’s just an added benefit that they’re a part of the joy of spring.
I find this article riddled with misinformation. My experience from having beehives in my backyard and cannabis plants growing 6 feet away from the hive, that very, VERY, few bees investigate the plant’s “flowers”. Female cannabis plants produce an oily resin – no nectar or pollen. Nothing of interest to a foraging female honeybee. I watched for hours and bees that landed on the flowering plants did not find much of interest and left within 10-120 seconds. Perhaps flowering male plants could have pollen harvested, but if flowering female plants are nearby no bees are required to carry pollen to them. Air circulation/wind is sufficient.
The RxLeaf article had these main areas:
Insects lack CBD receptor – “…the authors of a recent study published in Biomass and Bioenergy say bees find their own unique benefits of hemp.” The Biomass article simply points out that honey bees (and 22 other types of bees) gather pollen from flowering male cannabis plants during the late summer through early fall. “…integrated pest management plans need to protect the pollinators while controlling pests.” Not for the benefit of cannabis, but for the bees.
Cannabis Sniffing Bees sites a study titled “Detection of Illicit Drugs by Trained Honeybees (Apis mellifera)”. The bees can be trained to respond to specific concentration of certain drugs and it is measured by “a portable electroantennographic device for the on-site measurement of volatile perception… The reaction to cannabinoids was tested with pure marijuana blooms.” I can only guess what “pure marijuana blooms” means as that is not terminology I’m familiar with. These two sentences stand out for me in this study: “A more detailed dose—response test with diluted samples confirmed that honeybee antennae showed a dose-dependent reaction to heroin and cocaine (Fig 2). There was no significant reaction to amphetamine or cannabis (S1 Fig) even though both substances elicited a reaction in the initial screen.”
Can Bees Really Benefit From Hemp?
This sentence is just nonsense: “Since bees appear so keen to pollinate hemp, it may be possible to develop an integrated pest management solution for hemp production that includes bees.” Bees don’t pollinate hemp, the wind does. Bees harvest pollen produced by male plants but have no interest in the resin produced by female cannabis. The “integrated pest management solution” refers to efforts to protect the bees. It would not include the bees as pest managers.
Can Bees Help Provide Us With The Benefits Of Hemp?
Siting a brief article in the NYTimes Magazine that say herbicides and pesticides can’t be used in hemp farming, the author then adds more pure nonsense: “Luckily, it seems that hemp is a crop that doesn’t need such invasive methods of care. In fact, the most intervention these crops may need is a cadre of beehives busily pollinating their flowers.
Since bees are so good at detecting cannabis, have such an affinity for its pollen, and provide a non-invasive means for hemp care, it seems they play an integral role in hemp production.”
Bees can be trained to respond to cannabis odors, maybe. Bees have an affinity with all pollen-producing flowering plants and trees. And bees definitely DO NOT provide any kind of “hemp-care”, and do not play any role in hemp production. The author’s assumptions are not substantiated by any of the studies it links to as proof.
And finally, the last few paragraphs do make some sense by linking to another recent article in RxLeaf that updates our understanding the French beekeeper in Spain who claimed to train his bees to make THC-honey. This is a much more interesting read in my opinion: https://rxleaf.com/cannabis-honey-from-bees-that-collect-resin-maybe/
Thank you for this very thorough insight into your experience with bees! I agree about Nicholas Trainerbees, very interesting man. There are plenty of doubters and he was hesitant to speak with us as so many would distort his story and process. It’s heartening to hear another beekeeper take interest in what he has to say. I will have the writer look into your comments. Thanks again.
Mike – this is the response from the author, Nicholas Demski. He has had trouble accessing his account to respond directly, but we didn’t want to make you wait any longer:
It’s always great to hear from different beekeepers about their unique experiences. Thanks for sharing what you’ve seen with your bees and your cannabis plants. Other bee/cannabis farmers aren’t so please continue to share with the community!
The article in Biomass and Bioenergy specifically noted the value that hemp plays to bees, they said, ” Hemp flowering in northern Colorado, where this study was conducted, occurs between the end of July and the end of September. This time period coincides with a dearth of pollinator-friendly crop plants in the region, making hemp flowers a potentially valuable source of pollen for foraging bees.”
“Pure marijuana blooms” are samples that are made up entirely of cannabis flowers. In layman’s terms: buds. The point of note that the commenter was concerned with was during a portion of the article where the authors were discussing diluted samples and dose-dependent responses. Bees indeed show a response to cannabis in the form of plant material. When ‘diluted’ by the authors of the study, that’s where bees’ perception ebbed. More importantly, the point of mentioning that study was to note how bees can find cannabis in the field with their antenna, their functionality in law enforcement chemical detection isn’t relevant outside of providing us evidence for their ability to detect cannabis, which they do, as seen in Figure 1, which the commenter cited in their critique.
Insects who forage for pollen will inevitably pollinate the flowers on which they’re foraging. While I acknowledge that hemp is a wind-pollinated crop, that doesn’t mean we can’t find better ways to integrate new and unique methods into IPM a la methods of Nicholas Trainerbee. I’ve asked the editor to slightly adjust a few semantics to clarify any assumptions and speculations.
Granted, the idea that bees might help farmers pollinate hemp crops one day is speculative and based on the limited cases outlined in the article, I wouldn’t classify it as “nonsense.” There’s, theoretically, no reason we couldn’t train bees to pollinate and help maintain certain crops where they already forage for pollen.
If the commenter is looking for substantiated proof that we are currently using trained bees to pollinate our hemp crops, I do not have any. Nor was it the point of the article, but everyone can admit that it’ll be cool when it does happen. We’re still waiting to hear back again from Nicholas Trainerbee about any advancements in his process.