Bees are some of the most beneficial insects on the planet. They pollinate over 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of our crop species. Due to colony collapse disorder, the number of hives is the United States is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. As the cannabis industry continues to expand, cannabis growers and consumers can take action to support vulnerable bee populations.
Are Bees Attracted to Cannabis?
There are few studies on bees and cannabis, and no known relationship between the two. Bees are attracted to brightly colored flowers, plants that produce pollen and nectar. Cannabis is pollinated by the wind, and its nondescript flower color does little to attract bees. Male cannabis plants produce some pollen, but cannabis growers prefer female sinsemilla plants, which are not pollinated and do not contain seeds. If bees were to pollenate cannabis, it would likely be as a last resort. Bees also have no cannabinoid receptors, so it is unlikely that they get a buzz from cannabis, as humans do.
Colony Collapse Disorder
It is unknown what exactly causes colony collapse disorder. Unfortunately, bees have a lot of factors going against them—global warming changes the bloom times of their food sources; parasites and mites are deadly enemies; city sprawl causes devastating habitat loss. Bees also do best with a diverse diet. Almonds, for example, are California’s largest export, and must be pollinated by bees. However, large-scale planting of a singular crop loads bees up on a single food source, or forces them to travel far distances to find other food.
What Can You Do To Save Bees?
So what can cannabis do to save the bees? Most importantly, buy organic, and buy local. A 2014 study done by Harvard University’s Bulletin of Insectology points to neonicotinoids as a direct cause of colony collapse disorder. Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticides. The Harvard study found that once the hive was exposed to the neonicotinoid poison, a majority of bees would die, stop reproducing or abandon their hive.
As most cannabis is lab-tested, consumers can research and make bee-friendly purchases from farms that grow pesticide-free cannabis. Knowing where your weed comes from allows consumers to support companies with sustainable organic growing practices. This is particularly important for those who enjoy smoking concentrates: if pesticides are present, pesticide levels are also concentrated.
Another way to support bees is to create a habitat. Plant flowers that bloom at different seasons throughout the year. Create a native garden to support different species of native bees that struggle to find food amongst imported plants and turf grass. Make water (and landing areas) available to thirsty bees. Install a bee box for solitary bees. Or become a beekeeper and care for a hive of honeybees.
Ellen Markham, founder of HoneyBeeBuzzed, has spent years growing cannabis and keeping bees. She started keeping bees in Portland, Oregon, where her bees thrived in her neighborhood full of flowers and fruit trees. When she moved to Humboldt County, she packed her hives with her. But in the rural land of redwoods, her bees had a much harder time finding food. Ellen’s bees feed off of local huckleberries and use lily pads on her pond as landings to access fresh water. During the drought, when food was scarce, Ellen left her honey in the hive to feed her bees, and instead sourced HoneyBeeBuzzed ingredients from other local beekeepers.
Ellen says she is inspired by the complimentary relationship between honey and cannabis as medicinal superfoods. Honey has a wide range of uses, both internally and externally. It has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, calms sore throats, heals minor burns, boosts the immune system, and local honey can even be used to ease allergies. Bees do a lot of work for HoneyBeeBuzzed, making core ingredients such as honey, beeswax and propolis that are then used in medicated chapsticks, bath soaks and of course, honey.
If beekeeping seems like too much work, then support organizations that support bees. HoneyBeeBuzzed’s favorite is the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program, an organization that works to protect pollinators nationwide. Locally, California is home to UC Davis’ Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, one of the largest and most comprehensive bee labs in the nation. Without bees, we may still have cannabis, but we would have little else.