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Is Cannabis The Future of Antibiotics?

By Sierra Waldrop –

Modern medicine has made incredible breakthroughs in health since it’s beginning after the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Advancements such as the Germ Theory, vaccines, insulin, MRI scanners and chemotherapy have changed the world, creating longer lifespans and helping eliminate certain conditions or ease them at the very least.

One of the most important discoveries in medicine, antibiotics, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming in the form of penicillin. Antibiotics fight infections by slowing or killing the growth of bacteria. Now, ninety years later, scientists believe cannabis may be the future of antibiotics.

How Do Antibiotics Work?

Our immune systems can kill bacteria by attacking the harmful bacteria with white blood cells before bacteria have the opportunity to multiply or cause symptoms. Even if an infection does happen, our immune systems generally are able to get rid of the infection on their own. But every once in a while, the number of harmful bacteria can be too high for our system to handle naturally and this is the point where antibiotics come in.

They fight off the bacteria, allowing our bodies to get rid of the infection. Antibiotics treat conditions such as skin infections, infections of wounds, respiratory tract infections (such as whooping cough and pneumonia) and other bacterial infections.

Although antibiotics have saved millions of lives since their discovery, recent years have brought a growing problem, Antibiotic Resistance. Overuse in antibiotics is causing certain bacterial infections to develop resistance to antibiotics. Alexander Fleming, the creator of antibiotics even predicted this could occur. In his 1945 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he stated, “Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal qualities of the drug, making them resistant.”

What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

The World Health Organization (WHO) states, “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.” Serious infections such as salmonellosis, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and pneumonia are showing signs of antibiotic resistance, making them more difficult to treat.

Resistance occurs when the bacteria change as a response to antibiotics. Contrary to popular belief, it is not humans themselves developing a resistance to the medication, but the actual bacteria causing the infection. Currently, this issue is leading to longer hospital stays, more serious treatments being needed and loftier medical costs.  If antibiotic resistance continues at the rate it is now, common medical procedures, injuries and infections may once again become deadly.

How Can Cannabis Help?

Cannabis has already shown to be effective in treating a variety of medical conditions. It has shown to be an anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relief), anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, appetite stimulant, anti-seizure and more. Now, science is questioning whether cannabis could one day become the new antibiotic and the answer to the antibiotic resistance problem.

A recent study out of the University of Queensland in Australia has shown cannabidiol (CBD) to be a powerful topical antibiotic. The study was performed by Dr. Mark Blaskovich from IMB’s (Institute for Molecular Bioscience) Centre for Superbug Solutions, partnered with Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd and used a synthetic form of cannabidiol, due to cannabis still being illegal in Australia. 

The study found that cannabidiol was “remarkably effective” at eliminating numerous Gram-positive bacteria. Gram-positive bacteria include dangerous infections such as pneumonia and golden staph and were also effective against gram-positive bacteria that had previously shown to be resistant to other antibiotics.

In the study, they compared the synthetic CBD to powerful antibiotics like Vancomycin (used for infections of the intestines or staph infections) and Daptomycin (commonly used to treat infections of the skin or in the bloodstream, including MRSA, a serious staph infection that is resistant to common antibiotics).

What they found was astounding; CBD was effective against the bacteria that were no longer responding to other antibiotic treatments. Even under “extended exposure” environments where the bacteria developed resistance to the given antibiotics, the bacteria did not develop a resistance to the CBD.

Another interesting finding was CBD was able to interrupt biofilms, which are a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria that grow on different surfaces. In this case, they studied a type of bacteria growth that causes infection on the skin that is hard to treat.

In regards to the findings, Dr. Blaskovich stated, “Given cannabidiol’s documented anti-inflammatory effects, existing safety data in humans, and potential for varied delivery routes, it is a promising new antibiotic worth further investigation.” Continuing to say, “The combination of inherent antimicrobial activity and potential to reduce damage caused by the inflammatory response to infections is particularly attractive.”

The findings were shown at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), called ASM Microbe. ASM is “the world’s largest single life society” compiled by more than 30,000 health professionals and scientists that focus on the microbial sciences.  

What is Cannabidiol?

Cannabis is comprised of cannabinoids, which are chemical compounds that react with our bodies’ natural cannabinoid receptors. These receptors make up the endocannabinoid system and are found throughout the body, including in the brain, spinal cord, reproductive systems, immune system and more. The process of these cannabinoids binding to our receptors is what create the effects that cannabis has on our bodies.

Cannabidiol is one of the 113 identified cannabinoids and is one of the most medically useful and well-known cannabinoids, perhaps other than THC. It does not have the psychoactive properties like THC does, meaning it doesn’t provide any sort of “high”, but it does provide many medical benefits.

CBD brings relief from pain, eases anxiety and depression, reduces symptoms from medical conditions such as cancer and is thought to have benefits for the brain and heart. Those are only a few of the known uses of CBD, further testing of the applications of CBD will show us exactly how beneficial this cannabinoid can be.

CBD can be taken in a variety of ways, such as inhalation, topically, with pills or capsules, or as edibles. The most common way to take CBD is through oil, which is administered sublingually (under the tongue) via a dropper. These oils are quick and easy to take, while still providing all of the benefits of CBD.

Industrial hemp plants, not marijuana plants that produce “flowers”, typically create CBD products. Hemp plants are classified as cannabis plants that contain 0.3% or less of THC, whereas marijuana is cannabis plants that have more than 0.3% THC. Industrial hemp is also used for things such as clothing, food, paper, rope, lotions, soap and more.

In 2018, CBD products were declared to be legal on a federal level due to a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed the federal ban on hemp products. Prior to this provision, hemp was classified as a controlled substance. Although certain state laws have yet to catch up with the federal law on the matter, which can be confusing for cannabis users around the country. But not to worry, in Oklahoma both CBD and medical marijuana products have been declared to be legal.

To Be Noted

It must be said that although the findings of this study are both exciting and extraordinary, they are still in their early stages. In this study, CBD was used as a topical antibiotic, and studies on using cannabidiol as an internal antibiotic are still to be conducted.

Please do not use cannabis in place of prescribed antibiotics and always follow instructions given by your healthcare professional. The findings of cannabidiol as an antibiotic are certainly promising, but many more studies need to be done to find how exactly CBD can be used as an effective antibiotic for bacterial infections.