The presence of cannabis honey on the shelves in Colorado has the world asking Google “Can I get high from cannabis honey?” and “Can hemp save the bees?”. Let’s dive into the questions about whether bees can harvest cannabis honey containing THC or CBD, and whether hemp could be a tool in the global battle to spare the lives of our honeybees.
The first thing to note here is that cannabis honey is typically made by combining cannabis oil with honey, as opposed to bees making honey from fields of cannabis. So what would happen if we let the bees roam fields of cannabis? These bee keepers allowed their honeybees in Oregon to do exactly that, and they were sorely disappointed. Their theory was that the bees did not find the “skunky” aroma of the cannabis plant appealing, nor were there vibrant colors to attract the bees. However, research from Cornell in 2020 “found that hemp supported 16 different bee species”. They even found that taller hemp plants attracted more bees! So whether a bee is attracted to cannabis clearly depends on the species of bee in question, the species of the cannabis plant, and surely many other environmental factors such as time of year, or other opportunities for pollen in the area.
When honeybees do in fact visit a cannabis plant, there are a lot of theories about exactly what happens. Since flowering cannabis does not contain nectar, the bees are more likely harvesting resin, if anything at all. Bees do not use resin to make honey, however, rather they use pollen. Resin is utilized by bees to make propolis, which has many medicinal benefits of it’s own. Bees also do not have an endocannabinoid system, like most insects, and therefore (to our knowledge) will not get “high” from ingesting any part of the cannabis plant. This video shows bees flocking to a cannabis plant, but it is unclear whether they are purposefully harvesting resin, or if they are there to consume something else and cleaning off the sticky resin as they go.
A final thing to note is that even if bees were harvesting cannabinoids in their honey, the majority of harvested THC would be in it’s acidic form THCA and therefore not psychoactive. The process of decarboxylation would be necessary to activate the cannabinoids present prior to consumption, as with any cannabis edible. Not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here! The benefits of propolis are actually far and wide, and perhaps cannabis propolis would have some unique benefits. When it comes to saving the bees with cannabis, there is more optimization to be done on which species of bees and cannabis plant are compatible. With what plant geneticists are able to achieve these days, I’m sure they could come up with something to help our bees as the hemp industry continues to expand globally.