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Hemp Extract Protects Bees From Pesticide Poisoning, Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Sep 16, 2020   
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An extract made from hemp may help honeybees to survive the effects of pesticide poisoning, say researchers from the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Poland.

Inspired by past studies that have linked cannabinoids such as CBD to beneficial neurological effects in humans, the Bee-Research group, led by Professor Aneta Ptaszyńska of the University’s Department of Immunobiology, wondered if this protective effect on nerve cells might also hold true for the honeybee.

The team’s discovery could be a significant breakthrough for bee conservation, which would simultaneously benefit the many ecosystems that depend on bees as pollinators.

Poisoned bees live longer with hemp extract

The Maria Curie-Skłodowska University researchers studied around 5,000 bees for this research, looking at the potential protective effects of hemp extracts against the action of neonicotinoid pesticides.

These neonicotinoids are the most widely used group of pesticides in the world and mostly work by disrupting the nervous systems of insects, however, recent research has also suggested that these pesticides can make bees more susceptible to parasites and viruses. This includes nosemosis, a disease caused by the fungus Nosema apis, which is one causative factor for colony collapse.

“Bees are dying because they are malnourished and weakened by the use of pesticides and then they start to suffer from various diseases,” Ptaszyńska told the First News. “One of them is nosemosis. It attacks the digestive system, causes weakness and cachexia (muscle loss). Bees cannot digest and absorb nutrients and then they simply die.”

“There are reports that hemp extract protects human nerve cells, we decided to check whether it would be the same in the case of a bee,” she explained.

The research team found that bees exposed to both a neonicotinoid pesticide and hemp extract not only lived longer than the bees only exposed to the pesticide, but they also lived just as long as the bees that had no contact all with the pesticide.

Further research is planned to confirm these results, but the researchers believe that the use of such hemp extracts could present a major breakthrough in bee conservation. In the future, the research team is looking to conduct similar tests on wild bees in a range of different prairie locations, with a view to commercializing their findings. The team has already filed a patent application for its extract preparation.

Pesticides and the importance of a healthy bee population

Pesticides and insecticides are intended to harm insects by design, so it is no surprise that these chemicals can harm or even kill bees that find their way onto such pesticide-treated crops.

But just because these deaths are somewhat expected, doesn’t mean that the extent of these deaths isn’t concerning; in 2019, the rollback of pesticide regulations in Brazil was linked to the deaths of half a billion honeybees found dead in mass piles in the early spring. Similar concerns were raised at the time regarding pesticide rule changes in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The importance of bees to the global ecosystem cannot be understated. Any widespread collapse, like that which is threatened by the increasing use of harmful pesticides, would be far more devastating than just having a few fewer flowers in the world; honey bees perform roughly 80 percent of all plant pollination worldwide, and around 70 of the top 100 human food crops (accounting for approximately 90 percent of the world’s nutrition) rely on bees as key pollinators.


This is not the first study to draw a link between hemp and a healthy bee population. Earlier this year, researchers from Cornell University published a study in the journal Environmental Entomology describing how thousands of bees are now using hemp crops as a critical nutritional resource.

After extensive sampling, the researchers found that the hemp crops in central state New York were supporting sixteen different species of bee, with the taller male hemp plants being particularly attractive to the bee population.

Given the loss of regular bee habitats across the United States and the dramatic expansion of land dedicated to hemp farming following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the researchers believe that the hemp crop could become a vital part of the bee population’s future survival.


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