Bee sting cake is probably the most commonly eaten honeybee edible in the United States.
Its popularity, however, has come with its risk.
New research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that bees that consume honeybees’ sting cakes are more likely to develop a neurological disorder called honeycomb syndrome, or honeycomb edema.
The researchers found that when honeybees were given a sting cake containing the neurotoxin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the toxin’s ability to harm their nervous system diminished.
When the honeybees had eaten the sting cake with a high THC concentration, their brains were less likely to produce a neurotoxin, and they developed more neurological symptoms, including a loss of balance and muscle spasms.
“When we compare the two compounds, THC and tetrahyrrocannabinolic acid (THCA), the main component of the sting-causing compound in the sting, they’re not comparable,” lead author Dr. Jeroen van der Marel told the BBC.
“The honeybees in the study were consuming honey, which is probably a good thing.
The compounds are highly toxic to honeybees and the effects on them are likely to be quite different from the honeybee that’s eaten the toxin.”
The researchers analyzed the brains of nearly 1,500 honeybee sting-eaters to identify which bees were more susceptible to the neurological symptoms of honeycomb disease.
The study, funded by the British Bee Research Association, found that the honeybears that ate the sting cakes with high THC had a lower proportion of neurons that were in the brainstem, which processes sensory information and sends messages to other parts of the body.
“These neurons, which normally communicate with the rest of the brain, are not functioning,” Dr. van der Moerden explained.
“It is the neurons in the stem of the honey bee brainstem that are responsible for learning, memory and social behavior, and are also affected by tetrahyrocannabinols,” he said.
“So, they are more susceptible.
And so the honey bees are more vulnerable than the bees that eat the honey.”
The study found that these bees were less prone to developing a neurological syndrome than those who ate the honey with a low THC concentration.
“We’re not saying that these honeybees are necessarily at higher risk, but there is some evidence that THC exposure may lead to a lower incidence of neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dr. Van der Moet, who was also the lead author on a previous study published in PNAS that found that honeybees that ate high THC concentrations were more likely than those that ate a lower concentration to develop neurological symptoms.
“Honeybees that eat honey are more tolerant to THC and it may also be less harmful to the nervous system than bees that don’t eat honey.”
In the new study, researchers used a brain-imaging technology to measure the brain activity of sting-eating bees as they ate the toxin.
The study also showed that when the honey-eating honeybees exposed to the toxin developed neurological symptoms after eating the stingcake, they were less susceptible to developing neurodegenesis.
The team of researchers said that the neurodegeners in honeybee brains that are most prone to develop after exposure to the neurotoxic compound THC may result from a combination of genetic differences and the toxic effect of THC.
“There are some genes that are particularly susceptible to THC neurotoxicity,” Dr van der Maels said.
“They have a specific function in neurons that are important for memory, learning and social learning, and there are a few other genes that have been shown to be particularly susceptible.”
According to Dr. Tom Foulkes, a bee expert at the University of Otago, New Zealand, the research provides a clear message to beekeepers who might be concerned about the health of their bees.
“I would think that this is one area where we would be seeing a lot more research, not just from scientists, but from beekeepers,” Dr Foulks told the ABC.
“These bees, they’ve been eating this toxin for so long and they are so sensitive to it that they are now exhibiting symptoms.”
Dr. van den Bosch also added that it is important to be mindful of the toxins that are being consumed by honeybees.
“If you see that these are the ones that are contributing to this neurotoxicity, that should concern you.
You have to be careful,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.”
You have to understand the toxins and be mindful about what you’re consuming and how you’re ingesting them, especially in the first place, because you are going to be poisoning the bees.”
Honeybee health in the UK and EuropeThe research also found that bees in the US and Europe were less affected by the neurotoxins in sting-caked honey than in non-sting-cake honey.
“In the US, they actually ate more sting cakes than in Europe