CBD Might Work as an Antibiotic to Treat Bacterial Infections
Experiments showed cannabidiol can squash microbes that cause staph infections.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is growing in popularity as a stress-relieving wonder drug that may help ease anxiety, inflammation and pain. Many enthusiasts also say it can cure a smorgasbord of other conditions. CBD is a non-active ingredient in cannabis — it doesn’t get you high. And that’s helped retailers avoid legal problems while plopping the substance into all manner of products.
But does the CBD chemical craze carry any weight? There’s one surprising new way it just might. New research from the University of Queensland shows CBD may actually be an effective fighter against bacterial infections — although researchers don’t think you should disregard the doctor and start self-medicating anytime soon.
The findings were presented this week at ASM Microbe 2019 by Queensland research chemist Mark Blaskovich. His team carried out test tube experiments where cannabidiol effectively squandered strains of Staphylococcus aureus , including MRSA, VISA and VRSA, which cause staph infections and have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics over the years.
However, CBD was not effective on every type of bacteria. S. aureus are Gram positive strains, which, in general, don’t have an outer membrane. And that makes them easier to treat with antibiotics than Gram negative strains. Such bacteria cause infections like E. Coli , Salmonella and Chlamydia, and have an outer membrane that is tougher to penetrate, making it typically more resistant to antibiotics.
Blaskovich’s work was partially funded by an Australian drug company called Botanix Pharmaceuticals. The company’s stock rose sharply on the news.
But it’s actually not the first time researchers have found a link between CBD and antibiotic properties. A study was published in 1976 exploring the antibiotic effects of CBD and THC , finding that Gram negative strains were resistant to both. But since then, studies on the topic have been few and far between. And these days, well-funded antibiotic research is on the decline.
“There is very little research going on in antibiotics now compared to how it was 30 years ago,” Blaskovich says. With fewer pharmaceutical companies investing in the field, most of the interest comes from academics and independent companies.
Barriers and Breakthroughs
Blaskovich’s team is preparing to do another round of trials before moving on to tests in animals, and eventually humans, if all goes well. Then, results permitting, he wants to pursue approval from the FDA to market the drug as a topical antibiotic.
Marijuana has a checkered past in the United States, but with the FDA’s approval of CBD to orally treat a rare form of epilepsy last June , Blaskovich remains optimistic.
“The road to clinical trials (and) getting it approved is probably shorter than normal,” he says. The upcoming studies will also be completed in Australia, where laws about research on cannabis are more lax.
Despite the promising first tests, Blaskovich advises curious consumers to take caution.
“The results weren’t good enough to say yes … it works,” he says. “We don’t want people to try self-medicating.”
Could CBD Fight Superbugs? Marijuana Compound Shows Promise As an Antibiotic.
The quest for new antibiotics has led researchers to a surprising candidate: the marijuana compound CBD.
A new study finds that CBD, or cannabidiol, is “remarkably effective” at killing bacteria, at least in a test tube, the researchers in the new study said. The results showed that CBD had antibiotic effects against a number of so-called Gram-positive bacteria, including types of staph and strep bacteria, as well as strains that had become resistant to other antibiotic drugs.
Still, the results are very preliminary, and people should absolutely not self-treat infections with CBD at this time, the researchers said.
“It needs a lot more work to show [that CBD] would be useful to treat infections in humans,” said study lead author Mark Blaskovich, of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Superbug Solutions in Brisbane, Australia. “It would be very dangerous to try to treat a serious infection with cannabidiol instead of one of the tried and tested antibiotics,” Blaskovich told Live Science. [6 Superbugs to Watch Out For]
The study was conducted in collaboration with Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd., a drug-discovery company that’s investigating uses of synthetic cannabidiol for a range of skin conditions. The company also helped fund the study.
The work will be presented today (June 23) in San Francisco at ASM Microbe, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology; the research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
CBD has garnered a lot of attention in recent years for its potential to provide therapeutic effects without producing the high typically associated with marijuana. But so far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CBD only in prescription-drug form for treating rare types of childhood epilepsy.
In addition, studies suggest that CBD may have anti-inflammatory effects, but whether it also has antibiotic effects has been unclear.
In the new study, the researchers tested whether a synthetically produced form of CBD could kill different types of bacteria.
In experiments in lab dishes, the synthetic CBD did just as well as the prescription antibiotics vancomycin and daptomycin in killing certain strains of Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria. The compound even worked against strains of staph and strep bacteria that had become resistant to vancomycin and daptomycin, the authors said.
CBD also showed activity against bacterial biofilms, which form when bacteria secrete proteins to form films on surfaces. These biofilms can cause difficult-to-treat infections.
Experts cautioned that many different compounds appear to show antibiotic effects in lab dishes, known as “in vitro” experiments, but these findings don’t always translate to people.
“Just because [CBD] has antibiotic activity in an in vitro assay doesn’t mean it does in the human body,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, who wasn’t involved with the study. “Lots of different compounds … have [antibiotic] activity in a petri dish.”
Many more studies will be needed to see if CBD could be used as an antibiotic in people. Research will need to determine the dose needed to kill bacteria in the body, whether this dose is safe and how the antibiotic might be delivered, Adalja said.
Still, Adalja said the research is promising. “[It’s] more evidence that there [are] a lot of untapped avenues of research with CBD,” he said.
The authors now plan to conduct animal studies to understand the types of infections CBD might treat, as well as how CBD may kill bacteria, Blaskovich said. In addition, Botanix plans to conduct a clinical trial in people to test whether CBD can effectively remove Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on the skin before surgeries, to prevent post-surgical infections, he said.
Originally published on Live Science.
Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.