Antibiotic resistance is quickly becoming a global health risk. The overuse of antibiotics has led to the emergence of diseases resistant to many of the current antibiotics in widespread use and an increasing need for the development of new antibiotics to continue to protect humanity from the ills that plague us. The new super-bugs can now survive drugs created to kill them, thus making infections difficult, or impossible, to treat. However, scientists are now looking for new antibiotics in the continuing arms race to defeat them.
Someday, cannabis may lead us to one of these new antibiotics. A new study provides evidence that CBD could be the basis of an antibiotic which would place a new arrow in humanity’s quiver against deadly diseases.
The study was led by Mark Blaskovich, Senior Research Chemist at the Centre for Superbug Solutions in Australia. The findings were presented at the annual conference of the American Society for Microbiology, ASM Microbe 2019 in San Francisco. Newsweek reported the study’s findings, which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Blaskovich and his colleagues discovered that CBD killed all the strains of bacteria they tested in a lab, including some which are highly resistant to existing antibiotics. Additionally, the bacteria did not become resistant to the drug after being exposed for 20 days, which is the period when bacteria can survive some currently used drugs.
These include a group of bacteria known as Gram-positive: staphylococcus aureus — which causes the debilitating skin condition known as MRSA, streptococcus pneumoniae — which leads to pneumonia, and E. faecalis, which is particularly harmful to those with weak immune systems.
In an interview, Blaskovich told Newsweek "We still don't know how it works, and it may have a unique mechanism of action given it works against bacteria that have become resistant to other antibiotics, but we still don't know how."
"So far, we have only shown it works topically, on the skin surface. To be really useful, it would be good if we could show that it treated systemic infections e.g. pneumonia, or complicated tissue infections, where you have to give it orally or by intravenous dosing. A very preliminary study didn't show that it works in these more difficult models."
Blaskovich also noted that the study showed there may be compounds out that could be used as antibiotics but haven't been properly studied, he said. And, like cannabis, they could be right under our noses.
"The most challenging part [of the study] was getting the correct permits to handle cannabidiol in our laboratories, as the Queensland government regulates who can use/handle it — even though the material we are using is completely synthetic, it falls into this grey area under the definitions of cannabinoids," he explained.
Don’t try this at home, people. Although someday the development of new antibiotics may be chemically based on CBD, Blascovich warns that swapping out penicillin or any other antibiotic for the CBD you may now have at home would not work. "Don't!” he emphasized. “Most of what we have shown has been done in test tubes — it needs a lot more work to show it would be useful to treat infections in humans. It would be very dangerous to try to treat a serious infection with cannabidiol instead of one of the tried and tested antibiotics," he stressed.
Dr. Andrew Edwards, a non-clinical lecturer in Molecular Microbiology at Imperial College in London who was not involved in the research, also told Newsweek "The antibacterial properties of cannabidiol hadn't been appreciated previously and it's significant that there appears to be activity against antibiotic-resistant strains."
"Cannabidiol is already well-characterized in terms of human use," he said. "This is important because if cannabidiol is found to be effective in treating infection, it could be fast-tracked into clinics."