Bacterial infection has become a scary prospect in modern medicine. Could an ancient plant help us win this war?
The antibacterial properties of cannabis were used to treat tuberculosis in the 1950s. Fortunately, vaccination programs have helped stamp out this deadly disease. Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It colonizes lung tissue and forms clusters that prevent air exchange for the patient. If left untreated, this lung condition is deadly. In documented medicine from India (late 1890s), cannabis was a cultivated medicine for the treatment of TB. The most prized crops were planted over the grave of a killed cobra. Exactly how cannabis was able to fight bacterial infection is only now being determined.
Recent investigations demonstrated, to various degrees, the antibacterial activity for the following nonpsychotropic cannabinoids: cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidiol. THC, a psychotropic compound, also exhibits the ability to fight bacterial infection.
Study Shows Cannabis Kills MRSA
A collaboration between Italian and British scientists (2008) renewed the interest in cannabis as an antimicrobial medicine. In particular, difficult to treat bacterial infections, such as MRSA (methicillin resistant Staph aureus), as these don’t readily respond to antibiotic treatment.
Most healthy people carry S. auerus on the skin, but the problem arises when the bacteria enters the body of someone with a weakened immune system. This happens through an open wound, at which point a life-threatening infection can begin.
Similar difficulty in treatment occurs with recently-emerged, extremely drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (XDR-TB). Resistance to antibiotics for all bacterial infections is rapidly increasing, with some strains now even immune to vancomycin, the antibiotic of ‘last resort.’ The need for novel treatments to battle these dangerous bacterial infection is pressing.
Cannabinoids Target Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
A study published in the Journal of Natural Products tested six strains of MRSA bacterial cells against five different cannabinoid extracts. They observed normal results with a spectrophotometer. Cannabis cannabinoids showed strong activity against MRSA strains that were drug-resistant. These MRSA strains produce extra proteins that impart the ability to resist antibiotics.
The team manipulated chemical groups within the compounds themselves in order to find the most efficient killer of MRSA. This, as it turns out, did not affect the antibacterial properties of the cannabinoids, but only the success by which cells take up the cannabinoids. The exact mechanism by which this process is happening is still unknown. We do know that it is not by conventional means, such as fatty-acid synthesis or DNA gyrase pathways. In addition, the two most effective cannabinoids were CBC and CBD. These are non-psychoactive, so companies can mass-produce them to use for all patients.
Can We Use Cannabinoids to Treat Bacterial Infection?
Researchers suggested that cannabinoids could quickly be developed as topical agents and used in the hospitals to treat skin infections, lesions, ulcers, and wounds. This would decrease the burden for antibiotics.
Next steps will be test the results outside the cell culture environment to determine if the same benefits apply to the animal body.
There are limitations to a cannabinoid pill or injection due to metabolism causing inactivation while in the human body. The other issue for approval is the demonstration of safety through human clinical trials.
Another potential application for this discovery is as a nontoxic preservative for the cosmetics industry. Currently, the undustry uses parabens and chlorinated phenols. However, some suspect these are hormone disrupters. Cannabinoids as antimicrobial agents could make cheap and easy alternatives to questionable, conventional preservatives.
We need more studies, especially clinical ones, to prove the efficacy of these cannabis compounds in treating bacterial infection. We will also need to determine dosing. Topical cannabinoid therapy, however, is just around the corner.