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Cannabinoids against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Franjo Grotenhermen

In 2008, a study was published for the first time according to which various cannabinoids of the hemp plant (THC, cannabidiol, cannabigerol, cannabichromene and cannabinol) have antibacterial properties against bacteria that can no longer be treated with the usual antibiotics. The problem of antibiotic resistance, i.e. the lack of response of bacterial infections to antibiotics, has increased significantly in recent years. Therefore, new ways to get a grip on this problem are increasingly being sought. New antibiotic substances are urgently needed. Not only the often uncritical use of antibiotics in humans, but also the extensive use of antibiotics in factory farming contribute to the development of resistance.

Scientists at the University of Piedmont in Italy wrote in 2008 that the systemic use of cannabinoids to combat bacterial inflammation has yet to be studied, but that topical use to reduce resistant staphylococci on the skin "appears promising".

In 2018, scientists from Saaii College of Medical Sciences and Technology in Chaubepur in India published a scientific article for their work in which they had studied the antibacterial activity of three plants (cannabis, thuja and true guava). They were able to confirm the earlier observations and gain further insights. They found that a combination of cannabis and thuja was more effective than extracts of individual plants. They tested alcoholic plant extracts against different strains of Staphylococcus aureus.

When we talk about antibiotic resistance, we often refer to MRSA germs. Originally, this meant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus usually lives as a harmless inhabitant on our skin and mucous membranes, but it can also cause diseases, including severe skin infections, pneumonia and meningitis. Today, MRSA primarily means Multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

MRSA also became known in Germany through the television documentary "Tatort Krankenhaus" by Tilman Wolff. In 2008, it was made clear that about 160,000 people are diagnosed with MRSA in German hospitals every year and that there is often a lack of elementary hygiene measures such as hand washing in everyday hospital life. Today, it is part of everyday hospital life in Germany to examine new patients for the presence of MRSA in order to be able to initiate appropriate precautionary measures.

Multi-resistant bacteria often cause illness in patients with a weakened immune system. Besides Staphylococcus aureus, other bacteria could also be multi-resistant, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and various intestinal bacteria.

The Indian researchers had isolated a total of 20 different Staphylococcus aureus strains. Most were resistant to penicillin, methicillin, oxacillin and cefoxitin. Some strains still broke down on vancomycin, a so-called "reserve antibiotic" that is only used when all other antibiotics are ineffective.

Besides cannabinoids, other plant constituents appear to have antibiotic properties, including phenols, quinones, flavonoids, tannins, alkaloids, glycosides and polsaccharides. The synergistic effect of cannabis and thuja may be due to the fact that various of these substances have complementary effects.

According to an August 1, 2019 press release from Australia, a CBD company recently received US$40 million to study the antibacterial properties of this cannabinoid. CBD is very well tolerated even in high doses could therefore be used without much danger. The investment shows that stakeholders have high expectations for the antibiotic potential of cannabidiol.

An acquaintance recently told me that his brother, who tested positive for MRSA at every hospital visit, was suddenly no longer MRSA-positive after taking a course of hash oil for several weeks. The doctors could hardly believe it. This is a remarkable observation that deserves to be verified under controlled conditions. Perhaps with CBD.