How Bees (and Marijuana) Could Save the Planet

How the humble hemp plant could save the day


Hemp has a long and rich history spanning several thousand years. Its many uses are well documented, and it is ludicrous that such a versatile and important plant was illegal to grow in the United States for over 80 years (although it was grown during World War II when it was supposed to be banned). Thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018, industrial hemp is now completely legal to grow; great news for the CBD industry, lovers of common senses, and bees!

We Need Bees!

Although the sight of bees swarming can be frightening for some, and their stings can be painful (and occasionally deadly if you have an allergy), there is something comforting about watching bees go about their business. Personally, I enjoy listening to them (from a safe distance) because it seems to be an indication that warmer weather is on the way.

Whatever your opinion on bees, there is no question that we need them. In fact, mankind’s survival depends on their existence! Globally, there are around 20,000 kinds of bee, and we need them because they are the perfect pollinator. Up to 90% of the world’s most important crop types receive regular visits from bees. Moreover, one-third of the global food supply is pollinated by bees.

In other words, bees help keep our crops and plants alive. Crops such as almonds, grapes, avocados, peaches, strawberries, walnuts, cranberries, and coffee are pollinated by bees. We could, in theory, survive without bees, but it would be a precarious existence, not least because of the planet’s swelling population. Millions of people would die from starvation if bees ceased to exist.

The Bee Population is Dwindling…Fast

There has been a worrying decline in the world’s bee population since the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, the use of pesticides is the main culprit and has been since the 1940s. It appears as if the widespread use of neonicotinoids, a form of pesticide, is the biggest threat to our bee population.

Neonicotinoids have a similar chemical structure to nicotine and are terrible for our health, the health of the planet, and of course, for our precious bees. A study, released by the Harvard School of Health in 2014, found a strong link between neonicotinoids and the destruction of honey bee colonies.

The pesticide causes Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which involves honeybees abandoning their hives spontaneously. The study found that when bees are exposed to neonicotinoids and similar pesticides, they go ‘insane’ and are unable to find their way back to the colony. The study involved research into the health of 18 bee colonies over a six month period.

The 18 colonies were divided into three groups of six. One group was left untreated, one was sprayed with clothianidin, and the other was treated with imidacloprid; both pesticides are forms of neonicotinoids. All of the colonies suffered a decline in population during the winter months, but in January, the untreated colony experienced a rise in bees as expected.

Sadly, the colonies treated with pesticides did not benefit from the usual population boost and by April half of the 12 colonies were gone. In contrast, only one of the untreated colonies was lost, and that was due to a common internal parasite which killed several thousand bees.

There are of course other factors at play which are damaging the world’s bee population. Climate change is another issue, as is the practice of humans ruining wild habitats where bees normally get their food. When bees pollinate plants, they get food in return which keeps them alive. By reducing the world’s flower population or ruining crops with pesticides, we are rapidly killing off our bee population.

At the time of writing, America’s honeybee population is less than half of what it was during the mid-1940s. If something doesn’t change, and fast, we will have fewer crops to eat.

Hemp to the Rescue?

It is fast becoming apparent that the hemp plant can do almost everything barring vaudeville routines! It turns out that bees absolutely love hemp, which is great news for everyone. Colton O’Brien is an entomology student at Colorado State University, and he became involved with a pair of experimental hemp plots.

The first time he stepped into the then-secret university hemp fields, he heard a lot of buzzing. It became clear to him that bees liked hemp, so he decided to create a study to see how hemp aided the ecosystems of bees. O’Brien asked permission to set up ten traps at industrial hemp fields in the north of Colorado, and these traps collected bees over a period of five days at the peak of the flowering season.

There are not many crops that pollinate in the area at the same time, so O’Brien and his team wanted to see if the hemp plant provided a valuable source of pollen for bees. The results were astounding. Colorado is home to 66 unique species of bee, and in just five days, the traps collected approximately 2,000 bees comprising 23 species. While almost 40% were classic honeybees, there were other species such as Peponapispruinosa and Melissodes bimaculate.

It seems as if bees have a real attraction to hemp, because other studies which looked at how bees reacted to other crops didn’t produce anywhere near the same volume or variety of bee. This could prove to be a valuable study as researchers continue to prevent the bee population from declining any further.

According to the research team, bees are constantly facing debilitating challenges, including the health of their habitats. As a result, it is crucial for us to find suitable pollinating crops to aid in the improvements of their habitats. The study showed that hemp was potentially an ecologically valuable crop. At present, there is no data into whether hemp pollen is a good source of nutrients to bee larva.

Final Thoughts on Bees & Hemp

O’Brien said that his research is still undergoing a review process, and as such, he is unable to publicly release all of the information he found. However, he did say that there are a lot of unanswered questions such as how 0.3% THC could affect a tiny organism. He hopes to conduct more studies on bees and hemp in due course.

Although hemp may prove beneficial to bees, the fact it will soon be grown on an industrial scale is not good news. There is an increased risk of insects infecting the hemp crop, and of course, some growers will use commercial grade pesticides to keep their plants safe. If and when this happens, bees will face the same problems with hemp as they do with other crops.