For weed fans, saving the bees starts at the dispensary

Cannabis and bees on a cola in a regenerative farm

Sitting under a flowering tree and absorbing the buzz of bees diligently foraging the blooms is a beloved pastime for many in the warmer months. That rhythmic hum is a reminder of how alive the earth is, but it may not last. Climate change is threatening the bee populations from multiple angles.

cannabis and bees
Photo provided by Moon Made Farms

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First, the smell of plants is changing, making it hard for the colonies to find food. Also, climate change is altering the flowering months leading to some bees missing crucial flowering seasons based on historical timing. And that’s just the start.

There has been speculation about cannabis being a godsend for struggling colonies, but others argue it’s quite the opposite. Though the science is out on cannabis and bees, some farms are doing their part for the bees while researchers try to pin it all down.

Cannabis flowers aren’t like other girls

At a biological level, bees should not be attracted to cannabis plants. Sugary nectar brings bees to flowers to collect goods for the hive. But weed doesn’t produce nectar because it’s wind-pollinated. It doesn’t require bees to spread its seed. At a fundamental level, cannabis is different from pollinator-friendly flowers.

And sure, there are lots of different phenols, terpenes, and oils in flower that have sweet and spicy scents, but there’s no sugar in female or male cannabis plants. This is one reason it’s widely doubted that bees are attracted to cannabis plants.

One exception to this assumption has a bad implication: aphids. When aphids feast, they emit a sweet substance known as honeydew. The saccharine aroma draws in many insects like wasps, ants, and, you guessed it, bees. This is a rare occurrence, but possible, and not the only data suggesting bees might have a use for weed plants.

cannabis and bees
Photo of Eagle Trees Farm by Brenda Phillips

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Hemp pollen is for the bees, maybe

While the plant doesn’t produce nectar, male plants flower with abundant pollen. The Cornell Department of Entomology set out to see if bees are attracted to hemp pollen, and the resulting research paper shows there’s a possibility.

Bees were caught using nets across New York hemp farms growing different strains of low-THC Cannabis sativa in various landscapes. Researchers found that if the farmland is growing other plants, trees, and maybe animals, more bees would come. The more biodynamic the land, the more species would visit as well. This was also true of taller hemp plants.

The paper asserts that these new abundant crops (thanks Farm Bill) may provide shelter when many bee colonies seek new reliable food sources. On that note, some sun-grown farmers help the bees in other ways.

Cannabis farms aren’t just for weed flowers

Though the biological relationship between bees and flowers doesn’t explicitly apply to weed there are ways that the plant can serve the buzzing populations when grown outside. Bees don’t have much of a symbiotic relationship with cannabis flowers themselves, according to Tina Gordon, founder of Northern California’s Moon Made Farms, and Jesse Straight, co-founder of Eagle Trees Farm in Washington state.

cannabis and bees
Jesse Straight of Eagle Trees Farm tends to her bee colony

Both keep bees on the diverse land where they cultivate sun-grown flower and neither has noticed their colonies interact with flowering weed like they do other blooms. The farms invite bee visitors with their plants but cannabis flowers aren’t the main attraction.

“The honey bees seem to like the cannabis plants, especially when the flowers are more mature. The honey bees are a constant presence on the farm. We grow many companion plants and most of these do rely on bees for pollination,” Straight said. “Honey bees love Clover, our go-to cover crop. We also have other wild bees as well as predatory wasps that join in the fun.”

Sowing companion blooms with weed that may produce insect-repelling terpenes and also feed the bees. It is an excellent way to create a symbiotic relationship with them in the garden.

Moon Made Farms cultivates cannabis beside sunflowers, petunias, zinnias, and cosmos, but “the bees go absolutely nuts for Matija, poppy plants, borage, lamb’s ear, and they love trees in blossom. The entire canopy of certain trees will just be buzzing during certain times in the spring,” said Gordon.

Cannabis and bees
Photo provided by Moon Made Farms

Fewer chemicals = more bees

The best way for consumers to support this is to only buy pesticide-free products, but it starts with cultivation. Farmers will often use chemicals to fight mold or pesticides, but these sprays can harm generations of bees. Supporting farms living on the land instead of in it, like Moon Made Farms and Eagle Trees Farm, can also drive money to growers cultivating a place for bees.

Carlos Perea, founder and CEO of agtech company Terra Vera, shared with GreenState his hopes that farmers will keep cannabis pesticide-free for the bees.

“Last year was the second worst year on record for honey bee loss at 48%, so this is a critical issue that must be addressed now,” Perea said. “So, it is important for cannabis growers and cultivators of all crops to use chemicals that are benign.”

There’s truth to the idea that cannabis doesn’t attract bees, but that doesn’t mean they don’t play a role in each other’s life cycles. The earth is connected, from the soil to the stars, animals to herbs. Everything exists in relationship with each other, bees and weed included.

Though the act of growing cannabis plants doesn’t explicitly keep the colonies thriving, there are sustainable methods that might. Weed can be a friend of the bees with the right tactics, and if consumers support the farmers doing the work with their dollars at the dispensary it helps solidify regenerative farming as the future.

Cover photo is Eagle Trees Farm by Brenda Phillips

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.