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  • Writer's pictureJohn Mackay

An Elixir for Bee Life?


By John Mackay

Cannabis products have been investigated for their ability to treat human conditions, but could they also improve bee longevity? Some recently published research suggests so…

Cannabis-related products are in the headlines now – not those ones, but the products low in THC (the chemical that gives the psychoactive ‘high’) and high in cannabiodiol or CBD. CBD also binds to natural cannabinoid receptors in the human body and is being investigated for treating a number of human conditions such as nausea, depression, pain and other ailments.

Hemp oil. Good for the bees?

CBD is also present in hemp, a cannabis cultivar low in THC and a product used for its antioxidant activities for human conditions, as well as a food source of anti-oxidants. Other work in New Zealand (conducted by myself and Barry Foster) has looked at the effect of supplementing honey bee feeding with oils and fatty acids, with the result reduced nosema levels and stronger colonies. Other antioxidants have been investigated for bee health as well*, but this research investigated the levels of anti-oxidant enzymes when administering hemp extracts in different ways – via syrup and also via glycerine strips (not dissimilar to those using oxalic acid strips for varroa treatment).

The antioxidant enzyme activity increased in the bees, but as far as beekeeper benefits, the lifespan of the bees also increased: from the 35 days (control group without hemp) to 42 days (hemp strips) and a 60% increase in lifespan to 56 days with the hemp in syrup. This was suggested as being due to the faster uptake of the hemp from the syrup than the glycerine strips.

However, before you rush out and start dosing the bees – please note that the paper refers to ‘hemp paste’ and a commercial product. Therefore, no standard amount is described in the paper. Interesting results, some longer lifespans but ... further work required!

*: Impressive Impact of Hemp Extract on Antioxidant System in Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Organism. (Open Access)

John Mackay is a molecular biologist and the technical director of Gisborne-based lab dnature diagnostics and logistics, as well as a hobby beekeeper.


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