Marijuana compound could kill deadly superbugs like MRSA which affects 90,000 Americans every year
Tests show the cannabis compound cannabigerol can successfully kill MRSA, even eliminating those that did not respond to antibiotics, while also inhibiting its ability to form biofilms on medical implants
Scientists have unlocked the hidden potential of marijuana: it could aid in the battle against drug-resistant bacterial infections. More specifically, a compound from the plant could take on deadly superbugs --but only if it manages to clear further tests, suggests new study.
The compound, cannabigerol (CBG), was effective against the staph bacteria (MRSA) as it rescued mice from the deadly infection. These findings suggest that the compound could attack MRSA -- the sturdy bacteria, known to stave off many potent antibiotics. Each year, MRSA sickens 90,000 Americans, killing over 20,000. CBG also has the potential to kill other deadly bacteria too, says the study.
Scientists fear we are already in the post-antibiotic era, as many antibiotics are failing to treat bacterial infections. Very few new antibiotics have been developed in the last 30 years. The pipeline for the discovery of new antibiotics is very slim and deemed inadequate to address the crisis of antimicrobial resistance, Dr Maya Farha, a microbiologist from McMaster University, Ontario, and one of the authors of the study, tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
"So the discovery of cannabinoids as a promising novel class of antimicrobials is quite significant especially that they are effective against a wide range of bacteria," she adds.
The idea that cannabis can kill bacteria is not new. "In the 1950s, for example, crude preparations from Cannabis were used as topical antiseptic agents for the oral cavity and the skin," says Dr Omar El-Halfawy, co-author of the study from McMaster University, Ontario.
“These [cannabis compounds] are likely made as a defense mechanism to protect the plant from bacterial and fungal infections, but to date have not been very useful for human infections as they really only work outside the body,” Mark Blaskovich, who studies antibiotic cannabis compounds at the University of Queensland, tells The Guardian. “That is what makes this new report potentially exciting – evidence that it is able to treat a systemic infection in mice."
But, until now, its potential in killing bacteria has been poorly investigated. So in this study, the team tested five cannabis compounds cannabichromene (CBC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Of them, lab tests CBG emerged as the winner: it successfully killed MRSA, even killing those that did not respond to antibiotics, while also inhibiting its ability to form biofilms on medical implants. Their tests also revealed that MRSA may not develop resistance against the compound.
CBG could also target a category of bacteria that are hard to treat: gram-negative multidrug-resistant bugs. So far, research has shown CBG is ineffective against this class of bacteria. But the Ontario team shows that CBG and an antibiotic called polymyxin B, could tear apart the bacteria's shield, their outer membrane, killing them in the process.
For instance, the duo can together eliminate the drug-resistant pseudomonas aeruginosa, a gram-negative bacterium, which causes infections in the blood, lungs (pneumonia), or other parts of the body after surgery.
The team will not try to fine-tune the compound, by making it more potent and tolerable. The team adds: "Ultimately, its safety will have to be rigorously tested and it will have to go through pre-clinical development phases and clinical trials before it can be used in the clinic".
The study appears in a preprint version. You can find it here.