Much of the 24-hour news cycle has been devoted, in recent months, to the fight against a particularly nasty virus. Over here at Bloom & Oil, we’ve done our part, covering research that points to the potential for cannabis to help with the treatment and prevention of Covid-19.
But a new study points to another issue that has been less talked about of late. We speak of the looming specter of antibiotic resistance – and specifically, CBD’s potential to address the truly scary possibility that antibiotics may eventually just stop working.
Alexander Fleming’s 1928 discovery of penicillin was one of those landmark scientific moments that changed everything. It’s been just under a century since the discovery, but we now think of the pre-antibiotic world as a kind of dark age in which people died at alarming rates from infections that we now consider minor.
Over the decades, though, our dependence on antibiotics has become problematic.
The overuse of these drugs is rampant – not just for humans but for livestock and poultry (antibiotic sales for animals continue to exceed sales of those same drugs for human medicine by a wide margin).
Enter the present Covid-19 health crisis. In June, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, echoed the fears of many doctors when he expressed concern that the pandemic would accelerate the problem of antibiotic resistance:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased use of antibiotics, which ultimately will lead to higher bacterial resistance rates that will impact the burden of disease and deaths during the pandemic and beyond,” he said.
This confluence of crises – a global pandemic combined with increasingly rampant antibiotic-resistant bacteria – has obviously put pressure on researchers to come up with new classes of antibiotics that will keep our society from slipping back into a pre-antibiotic state.
The new study explores CBD’s usefulness as a “helper compound” which can boost the efficacy of antibiotics.
It’s in this context that the University of Southern Denmark has just published new data suggesting that CBD can help antibiotics in the fight against the new superbugs.
Previous research (which we’ll go into below) has shown CBD to have antibiotic properties, but this study looked at CBD as a “helper compound”. Helper compounds are non-antibiotics that are able to enhance the efficacy of antibiotics. In other words, they aren’t antibiotics themselves, but they help antibiotics work better.
In this case, CBD was combined with the antibiotic bacitracin against a staph infection (Staphylococcus aureus bacteria).
According to the study, three things happened with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria when the CBD/bacitracin combination was introduced:
- The bacteria were unable to divide normally.
- The expression of key genes in the bacteria was lowered.
- The bacterial membrane became unstable.
In summary, the authors stated that: ‘When we combined CBD and antibiotics, we saw a more powerful effect than when treating with antibiotics alone. So, in order to kill a certain number of bacteria, we needed less antibiotics’.
And in the long run, fewer antibiotics prescribed means less antibiotic resistance.
This study isn’t the first to suggest that CBD may be a weapon in the fight against superbugs. In fact, it comes on the heels of a preliminary report on ongoing research by Australian scientists in June 2019.
The researchers have yet to publish their findings, but according to lead scientist, Mark Blaskovich (in a report to the American Society of Microbiology), they found that CBD was able to kill numerous strains of “gram-positive” bacteria. This kind of bacteria can be responsible for serious skin infections as well as pneumonia.
That in itself would be exciting news, but CBD was also able to kill the bacteria without losing effectiveness over time. This remained true even under extended exposure conditions that would normally lead to antibiotic resistance. Blaskovich concluded:
“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. The combination of inherent antimicrobial activity and potential to reduce damage caused by the inflammatory response to infections is particularly attractive.”
There’s still a lot of work left to do. According to Blaskovich, as of a year ago, the researchers still hadn’t figured out exactly how CBD was killing the bacteria:
“We thought it might work by damaging the outer membrane of the bacteria, to make it leaky,” Blaskovich says. “It doesn’t seem to do that. It might be a completely new mechanism of action.”
So the research is ongoing. But while CBD may not be able to solve the conundrum of antibiotic resistance all on its own, these studies show promise that it may be a potent ally in the fight.