Synthetic cannabidiols may pave the way for a new class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria for the first time in 60 years. A breakthrough study in Australia strongly indicates that synthetic cannabidiol may be a powerful weapon in the global war against ‘super-bugs’.
Researchers at University of Queensland‘s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, in conjunction with Botanix Pharmaceuticals, have found that CBD can kill bacteria in diseases such as gonorrhea, meningitis and legionaire’s . Their findings, entitled The Antimicrobial Potential of Cannabidiol, were published in the prestigious Communications Biology online journal on 19 January 2021.
Dr Blaskovich: CBD could be a new class of antibiotic
The study has been widely followed in the pharmaceutical community since the initial results became known last year,. It is being hailed as a potential world medical breakthrough, amid predictions drug-resistant infections could result in 10 million deaths worldwide a year by 2050 unless an alternate treatment is found.
CBD can kill superbugs
The Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s director Dr Mark Blaskovich said in a 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,’
Researchers also discovered cannabidiol is effective in killing off superbug MRSA found in golden staph bacteria.
It may also be used to treat infected diabetic ulcers and wounds.
‘Cannabidiol showed a low tendency to cause resistance in bacteria even when we sped up potential development by increasing concentrations of the antibiotic during ‘treatment,’ Dr Blaskovich added.
‘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.’
CBD has potential to be a new antibiotic
Cannabidiol had a similar potency to established antibiotics such as vancomycin and daptomycin, and did not lose effectiveness after extended treatment.
“Given cannabidiol’s documented anti-inflammatory effects, existing safety data in humans, and potential for varied delivery routes, it is a promising new antibiotic worth further investigation,” said Dr Blaskovich.
CBD can kill some types of Gram-negative bacteria
“The combination of inherent antimicrobial activity and potential to reduce damage caused by the inflammatory response to infections is particularly attractive.”
Importantly, the drug retained its activity against bacteria that have become highly resistant to other common antibiotics. Under extended exposure conditions that lead to resistance against the antibiotics vancomycin or daptomycin, cannabidiol did not lose effectiveness.
It was also effective at disrupting biofilms, a physical form of bacteria growth that leads to difficult-to-treat infections.
Further trials of CBD formulations are now underway.
‘We think we can engineer a different version of CBD that will be able to have some systemic activity,’ Dr Blaskovich told Australia’s Courier Mail o. 19 January 2021.
‘We want something that doesn’t break down in the body as quickly as CBD does. There’s definitely potential there that CBD could be a prototypical representative of a new class of antibiotics.’
Botanix’s Ippolito: new class of antibiotics, here we come
Botanix president Vince Ippolito described the Queensland research as a major breakthrough.
‘The published data clearly establishes the potential of synthetic cannabinoids as antimicrobials,’ Ippolito said.
‘Our company is now primed to commercialise viable antimicrobial treatments which we hope will reach more patients in the near future. This is a major breakthrough that the world needs now.’
Still a long road of research ahead
The pharmaceutical company will now progress a topical CBD formulation into clinical trials.
‘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,’ Dr Blaskovich said.
‘Now we have established that cannabidiol is effective against these Gram-negative bacteria, we are looking at its mode of action, improving its activity and finding other similar molecules to open up the way for a new class of antibiotics.’
CBD research breaking new barriers
Dr Blaskovich estimates it will be 10-15 years before it becomes an approved antibiotic if further trials are successful.
The project was co-funded by Botanix, an early-stage drug discovery company investigating topical uses of synthetic cannabidiol for a range of skin conditions, and Innovation Connections, an Australian government grant scheme to commercialise new products, processes and services.
The research was first presented in June 2019 by Dr Blaskovich at ASM Microbe, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the world’s largest single life science society composed of more than 30,000 scientists and health professionals with the aim of promoting and advancing the microbial sciences.
Cannabidiol has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of a form of epilepsy, and is being investigated for a number of other medical conditions, including anxiety, pain and inflammation. While there was limited data to suggest cannabidiol can kill bacteria, the drug has not previously been thoroughly investigated for its potential as an antibiotic.