Scientists at the University of Queensland have found that synthetic cannabidiol, the main non-psychoactive component of cannabis, can kill the bacteria responsible for gonorrhea, meningitis and Legionnaires’ disease.
Associate Professor Mark Blaskovich, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said there had been anecdotal evidence in India from 50 or 60 years ago that cannabis had an impact on infections but he said there was never any scientific proof.
However, while the studies were encouraging he stressed that smoking cannabis was not likely to have any impact and even cannabis oil was unlikely to work in dealing with infections.
“We encourage people not to self-medicate with CBD because it is very dependent on how you apply it and for a serious infection inside your body we have no evidence that it works.”
But the discovery could lead to the first new class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria in 60 years and significantly, it could be used to prevent golden staph infections.
He said about 30 per cent of the population were carriers of the golden staph bacteria and CBD has shown it could be used by hospitals to prepare that part of the population for surgery and potentially avoid infections. Further trials were needed but if they were successful it could become commerically available in a few years.
In Australia, gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection and there is no longer a single reliable antibiotic to treat it because the bacteria is particularly good at developing resistance. CBD has been shown in the UQ studies to work for a lot longer than other antibiotics.
“One of the studies we did was trying to test an infection inside a mouse and using CBD as an oral dose,” he said.
“In that case it didn’t work and we think that’s because it gets broken down in the body pretty quickly and it also binds very strongly to components in the body so it’s not available to kill bacteria.
“It is one key area we want to look at because studies show we can make different chemically modified versions of CBD and some of them more potent, some are less potent.
“What we are hoping is that we can find a new antibiotic based on CBD that we could give it as a pill or injection and it would work at killing infections inside the body. That’s the holy grail of where we would like to go in the future.’’
It has been known that CBD had antimicrobial activity for quite a long time.
“We think that cannabidiol kills bacteria by bursting their outer cell membranes, but we don’t know yet exactly how it does that, and need to do further research.”
The research team also discovered that chemical analogs – created by slightly changing CBD’s molecular structure—were also active against the bacteria.
“This is particularly exciting because there have been no new molecular classes of antibiotics for Gram-negative infections discovered and approved since the 1960s, and we can now consider designing new analogs of CBD within improved properties.”
Botanix president and executive chairman Vince Ippolito said the research showed vast potential for the development of effective treatments to fight the growing global threat of antibiotic resistance.
“Congratulations to Dr Blaskovich and his team for producing this significant body of research — the published data clearly establishes the potential of synthetic cannabinoids as antimicrobials,” Ippolito said.