Scientists are frantically seeking for a new, powerful antibiotic that can combat resistant bacteria, and many believe that cannabis is the plant which holds the keys. Researchers have identified just one new class of antibiotic in the past three decades, which is slightly disconcerting when you consider just how quickly bacteria evolves.
Many familiar bacteria strains are so resistant to conventional antibiotic treatments, that for some patients, conditions such as tuberculosis and staph infection are life-threatening. The search is on for antibiotics that can reassert medical dominance over potentially deadly bacteria, and in this post, we’ll show you why cannabis is such a promising plant.
Understanding marijuana’s antibacterial properties
Researchers are continuously left in awe at the numerous medicinal properties of the cannabis plant – as are the patients who benefit from these properties. Cannabinoids from the plant have already been proven to reduce chemotherapy-related vomiting and nausea and effectively combat epileptic seizures. CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can also reduce Multiple Sclerosis-induced pain and muscle spasms.
Now, scientists are discovering that cannabis may be of use in yet another area of medical research – and are just starting to understand how. It’s been shown that many of the cannabinoids present in the resin on cannabis flower have strong antibiotic properties.
The efficaciousness of cannabinoids as antibiotics has so only far only been tested in laboratory environments. But many cannabinoids were found to beat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a deadly superbug that has been notorious in hospitals over recent years.
The history of cannabis as an antibiotic
The potential antibiotic properties of the herb were first investigated in the 1950s, which was before scientists had even isolated THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Researchers looked at how cannabis could be used as a topical antiseptic for the mouth and skin.
But perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised at the antibacterial properties of marijuana, given that many believe the plant evolved to have cannabinoids, so that they could protect from threats by acting as an immune system of sorts.
Many experts are hopeful, although somewhat baffled about the extraordinary effect cannabis seems to be having on bacteria. Simon Gibbons of the School of Pharmacy at the University of London spoke about the antibacterial qualities of cannabis to MIT Technology Review.
He said that cannabis evolved to have cannabinoids as “antimicrobial defenses” that work directly to beat bacteria, however it remains unknown just how cannabinoids manage to achieve this.
Research has been conducted to see whether cannabinoids work like normal antibiotics, by influencing DNA gyrase or fatty acid synthesis, yet they do not. Gibbons said that he couldn’t guess how cannabinoids work as antibiotics, but that there is likely a “very specific mechanism” because of how potent they are.
From this, we can deduce that experts agree that the scientific evidence has demonstrated cannabis is an effective antibiotic, we just don’t know why. More than 100 cannabinoids are featured in the cannabis plant, and it’s possible that all of these exhibit antibacterial, antimicrobial effects. There are also many terpenes, in addition to other plant compounds that may further boost the antibacterial potential of the herb.
In the next section, we’ll look more closely at the five most potent antibacterial cannabinoids uncovered so far.
The antibacterial properties of THC were revealed shortly after researchers first isolated the compound from the rest of the plant. In 1976, a paper showed that streptococci and staphylococci, two bacteria responsible for the life-threatening staph infection and strep through could be killed with a mere 1 to 5mg/ml of THC.
However, the effective concentration of THC rose to 50 micrograms when experiments were carried out in blood. The research found that isolated THC was unable to treat E. coli and helicobacter pylori, two gram-negative bacteria, the latter of which can cause stomach ulcers.
But in 2012, a study into the antibacterial properties of the entire cannabis plant showed the herb is somewhat effective against E. coli, and extremely potent versus Pseudomonas aeruginosa, another gram-negative bacterium responsible for several well-known infections. Full-extract cannabis was also very effective against Bacillus subtilis, a pathogen bacterium connected to food poisoning.
For now, CBD is best-known as the wonder compound that treats epileptic seizures but expect to hear more about its qualities as an antibiotic soon. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid has proven to be effective against MRSA, along with several other cannabinoids. But fascinatingly, the cannabinoids were not tricked by the typical methods bacteria uses to try and escape death by antibiotics.
Gibbons explained that CBD products were “unaffected” by the mechanism that superbugs usually fool antibiotics with. Moreover, research into other non-psychoactive cannabinoids suggests that cannabis could be harnessed as an antibiotic without the need for the psychoactive THC compound which not everyone would be comfortable taking. CBN, CBG and CBC are all antibiotics, and none of them have psychoactive properties.
It’s possible, Gibbons adds, that hemp plants with no psychoactive potential could be cultivated solely for use as antibiotics.
The aging process of cannabis plants can lead some compounds to transform – this can sometimes happen with THC, which turns into CBN. The good news from an antimicrobial perspective, is that this compound is nice and potent.
Simon Gibbons and another researcher, Giovanni Appendino, tested several cannabinoids against MRSA in laboratory conditions back in 2008.It has become very difficult to treat MRSA infections in humans due to the resistance of pathogenic staphylococcus bacteria to traditional antibiotics. However, a quintet of cannabinoids displayed an effectiveness against MRSA, including CBN (others: CBD, CBG, CBC and THC).
Cannabichromene is often a forgotten cannabinoid, however it should be remembered that this compound is one of the most commonly found in cannabis plants. Pakistani and Afghani strains tend to have high levels of CBC, regularly matching the concentration of CBD. It was in 2008 that Gibbons and Appendino pinned down the benefits of CBC against MRSA.
However, there have been several researchers over the years studying the antibiotic potential of cannabichromene. The compound’s potent antibacterial effects and moderate antifungal qualities were determined first in 1981. The cannabinoid was shown to be effective against Candida albicans and E. coli, among other bacteria.
The antibacterial and antifungal properties of CBC were confirmed once again by the same researchers, who experimented on the compound in the laboratory.
In a way, cannabigerol (CBG) helps all other cannabinoids by acting as a stem cell. It is from CBG acid that the compounds CBC, CBD and THC emerge. During the early stages of a cannabis plant’s growth, CBG acid is the most abundant compound, and it’s only through age that other cannabinoids begin to form.
Preliminary research into CBG, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, have confirmed that the compound does indeed exhibit antifungal and antibacterial properties. More recent research has shown CBG can tackle MRSA – perhaps a super antibiotic drug, made with CBD, CBC, CBG and CBN could be used to battle MRSA going forward.
The medical world needs fresh solutions in the war against bacteria, and cannabinoids have been shown time and again to be effective weapons. Hopefully, as the stigma surrounding cannabis diminishes, experts will embrace the plant.