Preliminary research suggests bees love hemp, creating the potential that hemp could help save the bees.

According to Greenpeace, there’s been an alarming decline in bee populations since the 1990s. The main causes seem to be bee-killing pesticides often used for industrial agriculture. Though there’s lots of speculation on how to solve the issue, a recent study has found that hemp might offer a prominent source of pollen for bees.

Colton O’Brien, an entomology student at Colorado State University’s Graduate School, got involved with two experimental hemp plots. O’Brien was lucky enough to have access to the fields during the first year’s experiments as they were originally kept in secret.

He recalled the first time he stepped onto the university’s hemp fields, he became overwhelmed by “lots and lots of buzzing.”

STUDYING BEES AND HEMP

A lightbulb struck within O’Brien as he became aware that bees were using hemp, that they “find it attractive.” What O’Brien wanted to know was how hemp fields contributed to the ecosystems of these bees.

A closeup of a swarm of dozens of honeybees. Do bees love hemp? Preliminary research found 23 different bee species were attracted to Colorado hemp fields.

Do bees love hemp? Preliminary research found 23 different bee species were attracted to Colorado hemp fields.

“I had asked if I could set up a couple of traps while [the hemp] was in full bloom,” O’Brien tells us, in regards to the second year of these experimental plots. “And I happened to know a couple of folks in the hemp lab and they said sure.”

Since O’Brien works out of a Pollination Biology lab at his university, his main interest for these traps was finding out what bees are attracted to the pollen given off by hemp.

With the traps, they were able to confirm that the bees were collecting pollen from hemp. This is vital as it’s been determined without pollinators like bees, much of the world’s food supply is at risk. In fact, without bees pollinating in general, about one-third of the food we know today would vanish.

THESE BEES LOVE HEMP: 23 OF 66 COLORADO BEE SPECIES ATTRACTED TO HEMP

Colorado is home to 66 unique bee species. O’Brien found that 23 of these 66 gravitated towards the hemp fields and fell into his trap. Though he can’t be certain, O’Brien believes these are the first experiments studying bees within a cannabis field.

“We found bees not only utilizing the pollen, but we also found parasites of certain bees,” O’Brien explains. “Like parasites of digger bees and sunflower bees. And even though they might not have been taken pollen directly from hemp, they were utilizing what the other bees were bringing in.”

O’Brien makes it clear he believes the hemp fields created “the dynamics of an ecosystem” which might not have existed without the cannabis plant.

A close up photo of bees crawling on honeycomb. Many questions remain about how bees and hemp interact, including whether the plant's naturally occurring chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, have any effect on the insects.

Many questions remain about how bees and hemp interact, including whether the plant’s naturally occurring chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, have any effect on the insects.

There still isn’t enough research to be certain as to what hemp pollen does for bees. For example, we don’t yet know whether hemp pollen will be a good source of nutrients to bee larva. All O’Brien can confirm is there weren’t many other plants within the area of these hemp plots producing pollen.

BEES LOVE HEMP, BUT RESEARCH IS JUST BEGINNING

Upon reaching out to O’Brien, he informed us his manuscript was still undergoing a review process. Due to this, he wasn’t able to share all the results he believes he may have found. However, he also admits this was a very baseline experiment.

“I think there’s a lot of questions that have opened up from this. Like, what is potentially the nutritional value of hemp pollen to bees? I understand hemp only contains 0.3% THC, but how does that affect a tiny, tiny organism? Is it the same standard?”

The cannabis plant contains dozens of naturally occurring compounds, or cannabinoids, many of which seem to have distinct effects on humans (and potentially bees as well).

Starting with these questions, O’Brien hopes to conduct more studies on the matter during the 2019 cultivation season. He also hopes that crop scientists creating pest-control strategies for hemp will keep the safety of bees in mind.

With all this in mind, it’s clear there’s still a lot to learn about hemp and its potential environmental benefits.