The male cannabis plant gets a bit of a bad rap. It’s typically seen as a nuisance by home growers. However, research has shown that these maligned machos may, in fact, have a vital role to play in ensuring the survival of not only humans but all animals that rely on pollinated crops. As it turns out, bees are big fans of cannabis pollen. And as populations of this essential insect continue to plummet worldwide, it appears that weed could help to solve this global crisis.
Bees Dig Cannabis Pollen
The hemp plant may not have bright flowers or even produce any nectar, but males generate an abundance of pollen. Importantly, they do so in late summer, when many other flowers have died out. This means cannabis may represent a vital food source for bees during a lean period.
That’s according to a study that appeared in the journal Environmental Entomology last year[i]. The authors monitored the bees that visited 11 different hemp farms in New York between late July and mid-September to conduct their investigation. However, as male plants are excluded from commercial cannabis grows, the researchers focused only on farms cultivating hemp for grain and fibre. These facilities allow male and female plants to grow side by side.
The farms included in the study supported 16 different bee species, with the number of bees at each site increasing later in the season. This suggests that as other flowering agricultural crops died back towards the end of summer, the bees increasingly looked to cannabis as a source of sustenance.
According to the authors, increased agriculture is a major cause of bee population decline. The establishment of large monocultures reduces the biodiversity within the landscape. When the main local crop stops flowering, insects have nowhere to turn for food, resulting in a population decline.
Planting cannabis may therefore offer bees a vital source of pollen in late summer. A time when they would otherwise struggle to find enough food in agricultural landscapes. The authors also noted that taller hemp plants attracted 17 times more bees than smaller plants. This is because they produce more pollen and are more visible.
It’s also worth mentioning that insects lack cannabinoid receptors, which means they are totally unaffected by any THC produced by the plants they feed off.
Why We Need Bees
About a third of all the food that humans eat is pollinated by bees, which means that if these vital insects die, so do we. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening now, as the destruction of natural, biodiverse landscapes, coupled with the increased use of agricultural pesticides, has caused bee populations to plummet.
According to official agricultural statistics, the number of honey bee hives in the US fell by 60 percent between 1947 and 2008, while studies have also revealed an alarming loss of bees in the UK due to the increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides[ii].
Therefore, saving the bees represents an important challenge for us all, and cannabis could well turn out to be part of the solution.
[i] Flicker NR, Poveda K, Grab H. The bee community of cannabis sativa and corresponding effects of landscape composition. Environmental entomology. 2020 Feb 17;49(1):197-202. – https://academic.oup.com/ee/article-abstract/49/1/197/5634339
[ii] Woodcock BA, Bullock JM, Shore RF, Heard MS, Pereira MG, Redhead J, Ridding L, Dean H, Sleep D, Henrys P, Peyton J. Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees. Science. 2017 Jun 30;356(6345):1393-5. – https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaa1190