CBD could be the bacterial-killing answer to gonorrhoea

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Australian researchers report they have shown synthetic CBD can kill a range of bacteria responsible for conditions like gonorrhoea, meningitis and legionnaires disease, a find they suggest could lead to the first new class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria in six decades.

To test the antimicrobial activity of cannabidiol (CBD), the research team from the University of Queensland used lab models to mimic a two-week patient treatment and see how quickly “the bacteria mutated to try to outwit CBD’s killing power,” notes a university release.

Researchers found “for the first time that cannabidiol can selectively kill a subset of Gram-negative bacteria that includes the ‘urgent threat’ pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae,” the study abstract reports.

The collaboration between the university and Botanix Pharmaceuticals, which contributed formulation expertise, demonstrated that CBD can penetrate and kill a wide range of bacteria, associate professor Mark Blaskovich says in the university statement.

“This is the first time CBD has been shown to kill some types of Gram-negative bacteria. These bacteria have an extra outer membrane, an additional line of defence that makes it harder for antibiotics to penetrate,” Blaskovich explains in the statement.

“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,” he says, adding CBD showed a low tendency to cause resistance in bacteria.

Bacteria that may be targeted includes the type that causes gonorrhoea, likely of some interest in Australia, where there is no longer a single reliable antibiotic to treat the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the country.

But synthetic CBD was found to be effective against more than just gonorrhoea. Its ability to break down biofilms — what Blaskovich describes as “the slimy build-up of bacteria” — was also able to combat antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as methicillin-resistant  Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA.

Researchers also discovered effectiveness against when CBD’s molecular structure was changed slightly. “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,” Blaskovich says.

“The published data clearly establishes the potential of synthetic cannabinoids as antimicrobials,” Vince Ippolito, president and executive chairman of Botanix, says in the university statement.

“Our company is now primed to commercialise viable antimicrobial treatments which we hope will reach more patients in the near future,” Ippolito notes, pointing out that the collaboration has enabled it to advance a topical CBD formulation into clinical trials.

FILE: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Scanning electron micrograph of a human neutrophil ingesting MRSA. / PHOTO BY HANDOUT/ NIAID

“Those Phase 2a clinical results are expected early this year and we hope that this will pave the way forward for treatments for gonorrhoea, meningitis and legionnaires disease,” he adds.

Microbiologists from McMaster University discovered the cannabinoid CBG could kill microbes such as MRSA, while a study in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science reported specific cannabinoids were better at wiping out colonies of bacteria than Oral B, Colgate and plant-based toothpaste Cannabite F.

“Antimicrobial resistance threatens the viability of modern medicine, which is largely dependent on the successful prevention and treatment of bacterial infections,” authors of the Australian study write. “Our results demonstrate that cannabidiol has excellent activity against biofilms, little propensity to induce resistance and topical in vivo efficacy.”

paper published last year came to a similar conclusion: “A post-antibiotic world is fast becoming a reality, given the rapid emergence of pathogens that are resistant to current drugs.”

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