Study: Cannabis compound could kill gonorrhoea and other types of drug-resistant bacteria

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The findings of a recent research collaboration between The University of Queensland and Botanix Pharmaceuticals Limited solidify previous findings regarding CBD’s therapeutic properties, which include anxiolytic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.

The team discovered that synthetic cannabidiol A.K.A. “CBD” successfully kills the bacteria responsible for causing meningitis and legionnaires disease. No other research has managed to glean such findings, which could result in the first modern class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria in 60 years.

According to the UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Associate Professor Mark Blaskovich, CBD cannabis’ primary non-psychoactive cannabinoid can eradicate a broad scope of bacteria. 

The findings, which are published in the journal Communication Biology, highlight equally impressive results when using CBD to treat meningitis, legionnaires disease and other types of Gram-negative and Gram-positive 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,” said Dr. Blaskovich, who works alongside researchers at the Center for Superbug Solutions.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually-transmitted infection in Australia

Over the years, single-treatment antibiotics have proven to be ineffective for a range of STIs, including gonorrhoea. Fortunately, Australian researchers hypothesize that a synthetic version of cannabis’ primary non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) can effectively kill the bacteria that cause gonorrhoea. 

Gonorrhoea is the second most common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Australia. Despite being rife among sexually active people, the STI bacteria is highly resistant and cannot be reliably treated with a single antibiotic. 

On the plus side, researchers from Botanix and the University of Queensland believe that CBD holds promise as a treatment option. 

“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,” the researchers wrote.

The team also found that chemical analogs are bacteria-resistant. Chemical analogs are created by tweaking the molecular structure of CBD.

CBD capable of killing various kinds of Gram-negative bacteria

CBD can shield the body from a much broader scope of gram-positive bacteria than scientists previously thought. In particular, the cannabinoid is capable of fighting against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — better known as ‘MRSA’ or ‘golden staph’.

According to Dr. Blaskovich, CBD is especially powerful at causing biofilms – an assemblage of microbial cells that bacteria adheres to – to decay. This is an exciting finding, since biofilms shield bacteria like MRSA from being wiped out by antibiotic treatments.

In addition to the potential of using CBD for MRSA and gonorrhoea, this study signals the cannabinoid’s ability to withstand three other types of gram-negative bacteria. They are as follows: 

  1. Meningococcus (Meningitis)
  2. Moraxella catarrhalis (Respiratory tract infections like bronchitis and pneumonia)
  3. Legionella pneumophila (Legionellosis).

“Cannabidiol has been shown to be less prone to develop resistance to bacteria, even if it accelerates potential development by increasing the concentration of antibiotics during treatment,” explained Blazkovich.

“This is particularly exciting as new molecular classes of antibiotics against Gram-negative bacterial infections have not been discovered and approved since the 1960s. We are now designing new analogs of CBD within improved properties. You can consider it,” he added.

Research could stimulate innovations in antibiotic-resistant therapies

President and Executive Chairman of Botanix, Vince Ippolito, says that the research signifies promising potential for medical drug producers who are intent on finding ways to fight antibiotic resistance. He believes that his team’s findings will prompt labs to explore new pathways utilizing the power of cannabinoids.

“Congratulations to Dr Blaskovich and his team for producing this significant body of research — the published data clearly establishes the potential of synthetic cannabinoids as antimicrobials,” Mr Ippolito said. “Our Company is now primed to commercialize viable antimicrobial treatments which we hope will reach more patients in the near future. This is a major breakthrough that the world needs now.”

According to Dr. Blaskovich, working alongside Botanix has made the research process much faster. He says that Botanix’s proficiency in producing formulations helped the team to discover how CBD’s bioavailability and method of delivery can influence its bacteria-killing abilities.

Following the collaboration, Botanix and the University of Queensland developed a topical CBD solution for use in clinical trials. Consequently, this may help patients to eradicate MRSA colonization prior to undergoing surgery.

“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.”

You can find out more by visiting the university’s news page.