March 5, 2019

With just one new class of antibiotics discovered in more than 30 years, scientists are searching hard for a new answer to tackle the increasing concern of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has a knack of evolving rapidly. Encouragingly, several cannabinoids in the cannabis plant appear to have antibiotic promise.

Existing antibiotic treatments are proving less and less helpful because the most common types of bacteria have grown resistant over time. This means that illnesses such as tuberculosis can, for certain patients, pose a life-threatening risk. If, however, researchers can harness a new antibiotic which can effectively treat bacteria which has become resistant, the dangers will be significantly reduced.

Cannabis is still wowing researchers with new incredible benefits consistently being discovered and used to help people with conditions that are not easily remedied with conventional medication – such as treatment-resistant epilepsy. The primary non-psychoactive component of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), has a seeming never-ending list of medical benefits, working as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antidepressant, anxiolytic, much more and perhaps now even as an antibiotic.

The antibiotic potential of CBD and other cannabinoids has, for now, only been investigated in laboratory conditions, but the remarkable results demand more research. Several cannabinoids showed an effectiveness against the superbug MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which has proven a nightmare for hospitals. Doctors have more control over the deadly bacteria than in the past, but in 2011, there were more than 11,000 deaths connected to MRSA in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CBD can be consumed in several ways, with some methods offering a quicker onset of effects than others. For quickest relief from symptoms, vaping CBD e-liquid is great – for one, it’s cleaner than smoking CBD-rich cannabis, and two, the benefits can be felt within minutes.

A re-emergence of science which began in the 1950s

A re-emergence of science which began in the 1950s
A re-emergence of science which began in the 1950s – Image powered by Herb.co

Scientists have sought to identify the antibiotic properties of cannabis since the 1950s, before we even knew about cannabinoids – it took until 1964 for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be isolated from the rest of the plant. In the following 50 years, more than 110 cannabinoids have been isolated.

When we look at how cannabis may have evolved, it makes sense that cannabinoids have antibiotic effects. Some think that the herb developed cannabinoids on the surface to act as protectants from invasive threats in the environment.

The University of London’s Simon Gibbons has suggested that cannabinoids are an evolution of the plant to give cannabis an antimicrobial defense, yet researchers are admittedly not altogether sure on how cannabinoids produce their antibiotic effects in the human body. Yet that isn’t bothering experts too much, who are keener to establish how cannabis can be seamlessly incorporated into antibiotic medicine.

Most antibiotics either affect fatty acid synthesis or DNA gyrase, but cannabinoids do not function in this mechanism. However, from the potency of cannabinoids, Gibbons has theorized that cannabinoids probably work in a “very specific mechanism.”

There’s no reason why all the currently known 113 cannabinoids in cannabis couldn’t have some kind of anti-bacterial and antimicrobial effects, and it’s possible that terpenes and other chemicals in the herb could have a synergistic impact which makes these cannabinoids even more powerful. We simply aren’t too sure.


CBD – Image powered by Eternalplants.com.au

CBD’s infection-fighting properties are a new revelation for a compound that has mainly received attention for combatting rare epilepsy in children. However, the MRSA-killing effects that the cannabinoid has shown in a laboratory environment may be of huge medicinal value.

Moreover, as it’s non-psychoactive, CBD looks like a suitable antibiotic for all, whereas some may object to THC, which causes a high from the interactions it has with cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

For a bacterial infection on the skin, topical application of CBD should be sufficient. However, for an infection that is causing problems further into the body, either inhalation (vaping) or oral intake (sublingual CBD oil tinctures, edibles) is preferable.


THC – Image powered by Sohai.org

However, we should not forget the antibacterial properties of THC, which may be of significant interest to those who don’t mind getting high. Furthermore, THC doesn’t produce a psychoactive effect when administered in a topical, and the high – if it is an issue – can be eased with a dose of anti-psychotic CBD.

In 1976, researchers published evidence that THC could kill the staphylococci and streptococci bacteria in as minute a concentration as 1 to 5 micrograms per millileter. This was an important finding given that both bacteria can cause staph infection. In the blood, the concentration of THC needed to be increased to 50 micrograms to be effective, however.

But THC was not thought to be an overly useful antibiotic at the time, with isolated treatment unable to kill of helicobacter pylori and E. coli, two types of gram-negative bacteria. That was until a 2012 study.

This more up-to-date research found that a full-extract of the herb was somewhat helpful against E.coli and very efficient against Psuedomonas aeruginosa, another gram-negative bacteria responsible for various skin and respiratory infections. Full-extract cannabis was also found to treat food poisoning, demonstrating effectiveness against the pathogen Bacillus subtilis.

The future of cannabis-based antibiotic medicine

The future of cannabis-based antibiotic medicine
The future of cannabis-based antibiotic medicine – Image powered by Herb.co

There appears to be plenty of options for experts to develop potent cannabis-derived antibiotic medicine. A very potent non-psychoactive treatment could be made from CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN). This medication could be derived from CBD-rich industrial hemp plants – as these contain very low levels of THC, there are far fewer restrictions surrounding growing it.

However, medical cannabis precedent shows that THC is embraced where it’s required, with the compound sometimes being necessary to treat epilepsy. All in all, the future of antibiotic medicine looks bright.


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