KITCHEN TOKE HONEY
Sweeter Than Honey
Our first commercial edible is naturally infused by a workforce of 7 million bees
Humans love cannabis flowers; honeybees do not. Those are facts. Researchers believe that cannabis plants are a pollen source of last resort for Apis mellifera, primarily because cannabis produces no nectar to attract foraging worker bees. No sweet nectar means no cannabis honey.
And yet honeybees will eat cannabis if it’s offered to them. From that they can produce an extraordinary honey that seems to deliver the medicinal effects of cannabis to the body with remarkable efficiency. That’s been demonstrated by an Israeli company called PhytoPharma International, which has developed the first cannabis honey in which honeybees have done the heavy lifting—by supplementing their natural diet with a special formula made of organic juices and full-spectrum hemp. The product’s effects are startling—and not completely understood—but the way it’s made is pretty simple.
Ilan Ben Simon, a former musician and marketer from northern Israel, is the man behind the method. A lifelong sufferer of psoriatic arthritis, Ben Simon was led to his country’s medical cannabis program after having a bad reaction to the opioids he was prescribed to treat it. With just a new microdosing regimen, he saw a quick reduction in his symptoms. Today, he says, “I’m high-functioning. Pain is no longer ever-present in my day-to-day life.”
Always Bee Feeding
The experience was so dramatic for Ben Simon, he quit his job and got into beekeeping, fascinated by a theory that bees might be used to infuse honey with cannabis directly. (He says he latched onto honey in part because he didn’t want to smoke around his kids.)
In winter, beekeepers commonly feed their bees sugar syrups to supplement their diets. As Ben Simon developed and patented his own natural hemp-infused juice, bees that ate and processed the fuchsia-colored feed then produced honey that expressed CBD as well as the plant’s full range of cannabinoids, including the fractional proportion of THC normally present in hemp strains.
After teaming with investors to form PhytoPharma, Ben Simon brought cannabis and cancer researcher Dr. Dedi Meiri onto the advisory board to initiate a slew of studies on the product. One project found that sufferers of fibromyalgia experienced diminished pain after taking the honey. Another study showed PTSD sufferers showed improved sleep quality. But the real discovery was that some participants reported the onset of these effects as rapidly as 5 to 10 minutes after ingestion, significantly faster than the 30 minutes to more than an hour it takes for regular infused honey or any other edible to kick in.
Now Kitchen Toke has teamed up with PhytoPharma to produce the honey. The collaboration came about last year when the magazine’s founder Joline Rivera, who suffers neck and shoulder pain from a 2010 car accident, tried the honey after some grueling business travel. “I was jacked from the trip,” she says. “I took a teaspoon and got in bed to read a book. Fifteen to 20 minutes later, my neck doesn’t hurt anymore and I had the best night of sleep I could remember.”
In early March, just before the country started to shut down, she met with Ben Simon at a winery in central California, where PhytoPharma makes its honey.
Ben Simon says his company’s production process is not much different from that of any other artisanal beekeeping operation. His bees inhabit 40 to 200 hives, depending on the time of year. As well as on the infused supplement he provides them, they are free to feed on anything in the vineyard and anywhere else they can fly.
“The more I learned about bees, the more I saw the potential of PhytoPharma’s work,” says Rivera. “Ilan and I believe that food is medicine and that the honey could have a big impact on staying healthy.”
Rivera and Ben Simon worked together to achieve a level of cannabinoids in the honey appropriate for culinary use. It had to taste good and still be effective. It seems that the high bioavailability means that 1.26 mg CBD per teaspoon goes a lot further and faster than it would in some other edible.
Beekeeping is seasonal, so the process is slow, which helps to explain the product’s premium price (Kitchen Toke is selling 6-ounce jars for $80 apiece at kitchentokehoney.com). “To create one ton of honey, I need three months and four people,” says Ben Simon. This year, he’s planning to extract the hemp oil he feeds the bees from unique plant strains grown on the property.
Better Study, Honey
As far as we’ve come in understanding the medicinal value of cannabis, there’s still so much we don’t know. PhytoPharma continues to research what, if anything, happens in the bees’ digestive tract to increase the honey’s bioavailability, or absorption efficiency. Other studies on its water solubility and performance relative to regular infused honey are planned, as well as clinical trials on the product’s efficacy at reducing pain, inflammation and stress.
Ben Simon theorizes that something about the bees’ digestive process improves the bioavailability of the cannabinoids in the honey, but until the research is complete, he says, “to understand how fast this honey is, I think you just need to try it.”
For those wondering what the bees get out of all of this, that question, too, remains to be explored. Ben Simon says, for now, he can only point to the health of his hives as a positive sign.
“One of the biggest indications a hive is in good shape is a swarm,” he says. “A swarm occurs in one situation: There are two queen bees present in the hive. There is enough population in the hive and enough food, so half of the bees will fill their abdominals with honey and, with the new queen, split the hive. I had only read about it in books. I never saw a swarm until I started producing honey the way I do.”
By Mike Sula
Beekeeping photography by Frank Lawlor
Product photography by Matt Armendiaz