Is CBD an antibiotic? What scientists are studying

Is CBD an antibiotic? What scientists are studying

We explore the history of antibiotics, and how recent studies have shown that CBD products could play an important role as an antibiotic in the treatment of specific conditions. 

The history of antibiotics

The history of the antibiotic started with a 47-year-old Professor of Bacteriology at St Mary’s Hospital in London, Alexander Fleming, who forgot a petri dish in the laboratory when going on leave.  He had been experimenting on the influenza virus, and on his return discovered a mould had formed in the petri dish.  He studied this mould and ‘accidentally’ discovered penicillin, which he then researched further as a potential anti-septic.  More than a decade would pass before German pathologist and bacteriologist, Gerhard Domagk developed Sulfonamidochrysoidine, the world’s first commercially available anti-biotic.

Antibiotics slow the growth of bacteria, and even kill it, by dissolving the coating, or wall, that surround the bacteria, interfering with its reproduction and blocking the creation of protein.

Since then, antibiotics have become more and more commonly used, with doctors prescribing them for a number of bacterial infections from urinary tract infections to some pneumonia.  In fact, they became so widely used that antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria started to develop.  In 1945, when Alexander Fleming received his Nobel prize he warned of this possibility, saying: “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself, and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”  Doctors always warn their patients that they must complete the course of antibiotics, even if they are feeling better, and this is exactly why.  Regrettably, Fleming’s prophetic words have proven to be true, and by 1988 the term ‘superbugs’ had been termed for these antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

So, what is new?

Most people these days are aware of the existence of CBD oil, an extract of cannabinoids from marijuana or hemp plants that is mixed with oil.  Initial issues existed with the legality of cannabinoids over concerns of it being a psychotic drug.  In recent years, removing tetrahydrocannabinol’s (THC) has negated the effect of ‘getting high’ and it is now legal in many states and in fact countries around the world.

CBD oils have been most commonly used for:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Pain relief
  • Seizures

CBD is widely available in a number of different forms.  You can purchase a liquid or tincture (mixed with alcohol) that is dropped under the tongue for quick absorption, oils (where the CBD is blended with oil) in the form of a lotion for external use, or capsules for oral ingestion. Newer inventions include soft gel capsules, for easier swallowing, and even gummies – gel chew sweets that are gaining in popularity.

In the light of the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and in particular multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria, this once-maligned chemical compound has attracted the recent attention of medical scientists. Scientists around the world have started to narrow the focus of their research to look at the potential anti-biotic properties of CBD.

In 2017 the World Health Organization published a list of Priority Pathogens (pathogens are micro-organisms that can cause diseases) for which new antibiotics or alternatives to antibiotics are urgently needed as they have become multidrug-resistant. There are 12 families of pathogens on this list.

A new study published in the journal early this year, Scientific Reports, by scientists Janne Kudsk Klitgaard (Principal Investigator) and Claes Søndergaard Wassmann (corresponding author) from the University of Southern Denmark reported that the combination of CBD and antibiotics was proving to be more effective than treatments with antibiotics on their own. 

CBD and an antibiotic were used against Staphylococcus aureus bacteria which is known to cause skin infections, heart valve infections, bone infections and pneumonia.  According to their studies, with the addition of CBD, fewer antibiotics were required to achieve the same effect as the antibiotic on its own.  The CBD acts as a ‘helper compound’ which enhances the efficiency of the antibiotic in test tubes and animal models.

This alone is a great breakthrough, however, what is even more encouraging is that there is even more potential for the humble CBD. Scientists are now researching CBD as a potential replacement for antibiotics, with preliminary studies showing that CBD potentially has a similar potency to commonly used antibiotics. In some test cases, the CBD has outperformed the antibiotic in terms of how long it takes to kill the bacteria.  At this stage, it appears that CBD is showing positive results against gram-positive bacteria, but not against gram-negative bacteria.

To put this in layman’s terms, it is effective against bacteria that cause pneumonia and skin infections, but not against E-Coli and Salmonella.  Salmonella is the bacteria responsible for most food-related illnesses (food poisoning).  E-Coli is at the root of most urinary tract infections, diarrhoea and other illnesses.

The current research is in its early days, and more testing will be required to ascertain what combinations work and which do not, under what circumstances and what dosages are safe.  It is also important that the side effects of larger doses of CBD are further investigated.

It is however great news in the fight against superbugs and bacteria commonly contracted in communities and hospitals. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become a major threat to health worldwide, and it’s exciting that scientists are broadening their search for a solution, and finding positive results.

So far it appears as though CBD may be safer for use than other commonly prescribed antibiotics, with the disadvantage of minor side effects being outweighed by the advantages.

While CBD is legal in many countries it is important that you check your local legislation before purchasing.  It is also recommended that you discuss the use of CBD with your doctor.