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CBD Can Improve the Immune System of Bees, Study Suggests

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Oct 17, 2022   
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Pollinators such as the humble honeybee are an essential part of modern agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States estimates that bees and other pollinators affect around 35% of global agricultural land, which supports the production of nearly 100 of the leading food crops worldwide. Indeed, nearly three-fourths of the fruits and seeds produced for human consumption rely on pollinators to some extent.

Recently, significant declines have been noticed in bee populations. This is thought to be down to a combination of climate change, excessive pesticide use, agriculture homogenization, and other intensive farming practices. All these factors contribute to the weakening of the immune system in bee populations, making them more susceptible to diseases and early death.

To help conserve bee populations, the search is on to identify agents that can support bee immunity. Now, a new study published in MDPI suggests that CBD extract can improve the immune system of honeybees in functioning hives.

Saving the bees

In bees, one of the most important lines of defense for dealing with pathogens is the proteolytic system, which is made up of proteolytic enzymes (proteases) and protease inhibitors. These enzymes and inhibitors are found in the bees’ hemolymph, a fluid equivalent to blood that serves the same purpose in insects.

Insects such as bees also have an organ named the fat body, which is a large organ distributed around an insect’s body. The fat body is where most immune proteins are synthesized and where most metabolic processes happen, so it can be thought of as essentially functioning as a liver.

Examining both of these systems and identifying any changes within the hemolymph or to the production of proteins within the fat body, can therefore be an effective way to judge the immunity and health of honeybees.

In this latest study, researchers from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland, examined both the proteolytic system and biochemical markers in the fat body to determine whether CBD extract might influence bees’ immunity.

CBD has a positive effect on the bee immune system

The researchers examined a total of six four-frame mating hives: two hives were used as a control; a further two hives had a cotton strip placed inside it, which had been moistened with a mixture of CBD extract, water, and glycerin. The final two hives had the CBD/water/glycerin mixture applied to the hive chamber for the bees to feed on directly.

Research studied a total of six beehives, two controls, two fed CBD directly via a sugar/CBD/glycerin syrup, and two given a cotton strip soaked with CBD and pure sugar syrup. Day-old worker bees from each hive were marked at the beginning of the experiment, with a small number of them being collected for testing once per week for up to five weeks.

The researchers found that CBD significantly, and positively, influenced the immune system parameters examined in the study.

Bees from each of the four hives exposed to CBD had higher concentrations of total protein than the control hives, indicating a higher production of immune proteins in the fat body. The researchers suggest that exposure to CBD may be increasing the concentration of calcium ions in the bees’ bodies, which can affect the functioning of many key enzymes involved in immune defense.

Protease and protease inhibitor activities were also higher in every parameter studied for the hives given the CBD syrup directly, and higher in all except for acid proteases and alkaline inhibitors for bees in the CBD strip hives.

“Under natural conditions, bees may be exposed to biotic or abiotic stress, which is visible, for example, in the activity of serine proteases,” the study authors wrote. “In this case, the increase in the activity of the proteolytic system of the supplemented bees may be associated with a stronger and faster response to possible negative factors and thus their faster neutralization.”

The researchers also noted increases in some biomarkers in the bees’ fat body, specifically for the enzymes ALP, AST, and ALT. In humans, these enzymes are liver enzymes and an increase in their expression can be a key indicator of liver inflammation or other liver problems. However, in the case of bees, the opposite appears to be true; a decrease in the number of enzymes can be detrimental to the health of bees.

In light of these findings, the researchers behind this latest study say that CBD extract may prove to be a valuable supplement for improving the immune health of honeybee hives.

Hemp and bee conservation

This is not the first time that cannabis has been studied with respect to bee health.

A study published in 2020 found that the US national hemp crop may also be providing bees with critical nutritional resources. After sampling bees from eleven hemp farms in central state New York, the researchers from Cornell University identified a total of 16 different bee species that had made visits to the hemp crops. They also found that tall hemp plants were particularly attractive to the bee population.

Researchers from the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Poland, also recently discovered that hemp extract given to bees may help to protect them against the harmful effects of neonicotinoid pesticides. Not only did bees exposed to the pesticide and hemp extract live longer than the bees only exposed to the pesticide, the hemp-extract bees lived just as long as the control bees.

Bees are essential to the global ecosystem and to the food crops that humans rely on. Any dramatic decline in bee populations would lead to nothing short of ecological collapse. Finding ways to enhance bee health and improve conservation is critical for the bee population’s future survival, and hemp may be a part of the answer.


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