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The Buzz About Drug-Sniffing Honeybees

Coming in under the category of weird but factually real science, researchers have found a better way to detect cannabis on you wherever you are that’s better than any drug sniffing dog…

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Coming in under the category of weird but factually real science, researchers have found a better way to detect cannabis on you wherever you are that’s better than any drug sniffing dog.

It’s the honeybee. That’s right, the common honeybee can be used simply and easily to bust a cannabis-carrying passenger at the airport or wherever it’s still illegal to possess.

The feds have discovered that sniffer dog alerts don’t provide enough evidence to allow police to search a suspected cannabis carrier without permission, or a warrant, or additional probable cause.

So they had to find something – some other biological being – to help out with instantly provable results.

And voila – the honeybee, or more specifically the western honeybee, fits the bill.

Trained insects can be used as alternative biosensors for illegal drugs because their antennae are the most sensitive natural organs discovered so far for the detection of a certain terpene in cannabis. And hey: Insects can be “made” inexpensively, and trained quickly.

According to a study by the Loewe Center for Insect Biotechnology and Bioresources in Giessen, Germany, the perception of odors by insects begins when volatile odor molecules interact with odorant-binding proteins (OBPs) in sensory organs known as sensilla on honeybee antennae.

The odor is translated into an electrical signal inside the bee, which can then be identified by an electroantennography (EAG) device.


Related – THE BUZZ ABOUT DRUG-SNIFFING HONEYBEES , Trainerbees: The Buzz Of The Industry


Insect antennae are connected to two electrodes that amplify and record the signals induced when odorant receptors on the antenna interact with odor to be detected – in this case, a terpene compound in cannabis – and boom, you’re busted.

Why the honeybee? “Why not?” is the response from Jahan Marcu, the Chief Scientific Officer of Americans for Safe Access, who explained how it works during a patient focused certification class.

“THC or anything illegal on the plant actually doesn’t have a smell,” he explained. “Drug sniffing creatures – and now insects – are trained to identify terpenes.”

And guess what? One of the many compounds found in terpenes is ocimene, a pheromone produced by young honeybees that incites the worker bees to forage for food for the young bees. “Ocimene is a compound that is found a lot in California cannabis terpenes,” Marcu says.

Got more than just cannabis on you? Well, it’s been demonstrated that the western honeybee can also sense compounds associated with pure samples of heroin and cocaine.

Researchers tested the ability of honeybees to detect the scent of heroin and trained them to show a reliable behavioral response in the presence of a highly-diluted scent of pure heroin.

No word yet when bees will actually be used as drug sniffers, but don’t be a bee hater just yet. Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie, New York, cultivates the yeast they use for fermenting their sweet-tasting beer from their bee’s honeycombs.

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