Is CBD the next antibiotic?

Published on January 21, 2021 by David Wylie

In Australia, gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection.

A breakthrough study could lead to the first new class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria in 60 years.

Synthetic CBD has been shown for the first time to kill the bacteria responsible for gonorrhoea, meningitis and legionnaires disease.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience out of the University of Queensland in Australia announced the findings this week of a research collaboration between IMB’s Centre for Superbug Solutions and Botanix Pharmaceuticals Limited.

CBD, the main non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, can penetrate and kill a wide range of bacteria.

“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,” Associate Prof. Mark Blaskovich told the university.

In Australia, gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection and there is no longer a single reliable antibiotic to treat it because the bacteria is particularly good at developing resistance.

The study also showed that CBD was widely effective against a much larger number of Gram-positive bacteria than previously known, including antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or ‘golden staph’.

Blaskovich said cannabidiol was particularly good at breaking down biofilms—the slimy build-up of bacteria, such as dental plaque on the surface of teeth—which help bacteria such as MRSA survive antibiotic treatments.

His team at the Centre for Superbug Solutions mimicked a two-week patient treatment in laboratory models to see how fast the bacteria mutated to try to outwit CBD’s killing power.

Cutline: Associate Prof. Mark Blaskovich is director of the Centre for Superbug Solutions

“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.’”

“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.

“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.”

“This is a major breakthrough that the world needs now,” says Vince Ippolito, president and executive chairman of Botanix.

He says the research showed vast potential for the development of effective treatments to fight the growing global threat of antibiotic resistance.

Blaskovich says: “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.

“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.”

This research has been published in Communications Biology.