New experiment suggests legal cannabis can help save the bees

As the world grapples with devastating declines in the population of bees, a new experiment in Colorado suggests legalizing cannabis can provide relief to our pollinator friends.

Bees not only provide food for humans in the form of honey, they pollinate plants that grow food for us. Without them, our food supply would dwindle and tragedy would follow.

The use of pesticides, pollution and climate change have all contributed to the death of bee colonies in the United States and around the globe as scientists rush to raise the alarm and governments do what they can to save them. But entomology student Colton O’Brien of Colorado State University in Fort Collins suggests one way we can help the bees is to legalize cannabis and start growing it as a major crop.

Cannabis is the plant the produces hemp used to make products like clothing and rope, and it also produces marijuana. But it’s the hemp that is the most useful to bee populations as it actually produces pollen they can feed on.

O’Brien set up an experiment in two hemp plots in the state, where commercial and recreational hemp is legal, and set traps for bees to find out if cannabis is a viable food source that benefits bee populations.

According to O’Brien’s report presented at Entomology 2018:

As a versatile, multi-use crop, hemp is valued for fiber and seed. This study was conducted in Northern Colorado where hemp flowers between late July and late September. Dioecious and wind-pollinated, staminate hemp plants exhibit mass pollen shedding. At this point in the season many crops have completed bloom leading to a dearth of nutritional resources for pollinators. Thus, hemp becomes a valuable pollen source for foraging bees, giving it the potential to have a strong ecological value. We describe the diversity and abundance of bees in flowering hemp.

O’Brien went on to warn that pest control measures need to be crafted that reduce insect pests without harming bees as hemp becomes a more common and valued crop. Because it continues producing pollen longer in the growing season, bees can seek it out and gather extra nutrition before going into hibernation for the winter, especially if bees are already having difficulty finding food sources.

“You walk through fields and you hear buzzing everywhere,” O’Brien told Science News.

Bees need pollen to feed their young, and during the trap survey in August 2016, there weren’t a lot of other flowers blooming. Hardly anything is known about the nutritional qualities of hemp pollen for larval bees. Yet, commercial hemp plots may end up as rare food sources for pollinators in stressful times, O’Brien said. Honeybee health has faltered in recent years, and conservationists also worry about the fates of the many, less-studied wild bees. O’Brien urged crop scientists now developing the pest fighting strategies for outdoor hemp to be mindful of bee health.

For over 80 years, the federal government has outlawed the growing of hemp. But our current ecological crisis demands change. While hemp won’t single-handedly save the bee population, it will at least help keep those populations fed and working for us when we need them. Because if the bees die, we die.

To learn more about saving bee populations, click here.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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