The Antibiotic Properties of CBD, Phytocannabinoids

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are the class of medications that we have developed to defend against bacterial infections. They were first discovered by accident in the early 20th century. Sir Alexander Fleming noticed that when mold spores contaminated a petri dish of E. Coli, the mold killed the e. Coli; the compound produced by the mold spores was penicillin. There are many different types of antibiotics now, and they fight a wide range of different bacteria.

As medical technology advanced, doctors prescribed antibiotics to their patients constantly to treat an ever expanding array of infections. However, this had a deadly unintended consequence: bacteria evolved.

What is antibiotic resistance?

The use of antibiotics effectively accelerated the process of natural selection. Antibiotics are designed to target some specific step in a process that is both vital and unique to bacteria; something that kills bacterial cells but doesn’t harm our own cells. Inevitably, some strain of bacteria popped up after a mutation that allowed it to no longer require the process which gets disrupted by antibiotics: the antibiotics can’t harm the new bacteria.

This means that after the antibiotic has killed all of the bacteria that it can, now only the resistant population is left, and they don’t have to compete for food or space with all of the other bacteria that the antibiotic so kindly removed, and we have no drugs that can harm them: this is a deadly combination and it’s why MRSA is such a horrible infection.

What is MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is one of the strains which evolved. Methicillin is one of the most potent antibiotics, and many others are related to its precursor, penicillin. They work by preventing bacterial cell-walls from forming. However, MRSA doesn’t require the same proteins to bind its cell-wall that most staph infections do, so methicillin and any other antibiotic related to it are completely ineffective. Vancomycin, a last-resort antibiotic due to its potency, is effective against certain strains of MRSA by blocking a different step in cell-wall synthesis.

CBD and other phytocannabinoids offer a new path forward

Several studies have provided nearly identical results, concluding that CBD (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol), and CBN (cannabinol) were all as effective as vancomycin at inhibiting the growth of 6 different strains of MRSA (M.I.C.: 1-4 μg/ml). Researchers are still unable to determine how exactly the cannabinoids are able to exert such a potent effect. Even reordering the shape of the cannabinoid molecules only affected the rate of absorption into the cell, but didn’t affect the antibiotic capability.

The potency of antibiotics is measured by its MIC, or minimum inhibitory concentration: the lowest concentration of the substance circulating in the blood that is necessary to completely stop bacterial growth, but not necessarily cause complete death. As long as the rapid growth is stopped, our immune systems can handle the rest. The MIC of vancomycin for MRSA is between 1 and 5 micrograms per milliliter of blood; this is exactly the same rate for CBD, and 4 other cannabinoids followed close behind. At least one isomer (shape) of cannabinol, cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and tetrahydrocannabinol all exerted similar antibiotic effects on all 6 MRSA strains.

As the studies piled on one another, the reality became clear that surely one of the biological functions of phytocannabinoids is to protect the cannabis plant from infection and blight, and these properties could help explain why hemp is such a hardy plant.

The therapeutic potential of CBD and full-spectrum products for antibiotic purposes is expansive and well-timed; there have only been 2 new classes of antibiotics developed in the last 30 years. Many in the field believe that one day soon we will live in a “post-antibiotic world”; because CBD does not share the same mechanisms of action with traditional antibiotics, it could prevent this reality from unfolding.

Research centers are already using cannabinoid-infused topicals and patches in order to prevent infection in hospital settings, especially MRSA infection which is common. Not only is CBD a healthier, less side-effect-ridden alternative, but it also prevents antibiotic overuse which is the single contributor to our state of affairs with deadly resistant bacteria.