The United Nations cautioned that antibiotic resistance by bacteria could take as many as 50 million lives a year by 2050. As antibiotic resistance becomes more of a problem due to overuse, one study has suggested a cannabis ingredient could be the answer.

The University of Queensland. Photo: collusion

The University of Queensland. Photo: collusion

The study was by the Centre for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland in Strylia. It discovered that cannabidiol (CBD), the secondmost common ingredient of cannabis after tetrahydrocannabinol, killed every strain of bacteria subjected to lab tests. This included some that have the most antibiotic resistance when it comes to conventional drugs. Tetrahydrocannabinol gets you stoned, cannabidiol doesn’t, although it has a calming effect.

What the study was

Experiments were conducted upon mice. Researchers tested the bacteria Gram-positive staphylococcus aureus, responsible for such conditions as the bug often found in hospitals, MRSA; E faecalis, something possibly lethal to people with weakened immune systems; and streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause pneumonia. No resistance to the drug arose in 20 days, the length of time generally taken for this to occur. There was successful disruption of biofilms, a kind of bacterial growth that generally gives rise to infections that are hard to treat. A downside is that there was no effect on Gram-negative bacteria, which can cause E. coli and salmonella, so this avenue is unlikely to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance in general.

The impact

Mark Blakovich, the Centre for Superbug Solutions’ senior research chemist who led the study, remarked that CBD was “a promising new antibiotic worth further investigation”, but “We still don’t know how it works”. Work it does, on the surface of skin. The phenomenon would be much more useful if the means of administration of CBD was intravenous dosing or oral, but this was a preliminary study. According to Blakovich, the study’s hardest aspect was obtaining the permits to allow the handling of CBD since the government regulates this.

The study’s findings were made public in San Francisco at the American Society for Microbiology’s 2019 conference and have yet to be peer-reviewed. If anybody wanted to try using cannabis instead of regular antibiotics, Blakovich warned, “Don’t! Most of what we have shown has been done in test tubes”. There would have to be “a lot more work” before it was proven as a treatment for infections that occur in humans.

CBD-based drugs are coming

The Queensland band was working with the drug company Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd, which co-funded the venture. Botanix is testing a number of CBD formulations on humans. The most advanced, an acne treatment, has exhibited potential in a phase 1 trial and will progress to phase 2 trials later in the year. Of the study’s findings, Andrew Edwards, a molecular biologist from Imperial College London uninvolved with it, commented that they were important because if cannabidiol was discovered to effectively treat infection “it could be fast-tracked into clinics.”

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