Author: Saira Zulfiqar
Is CBD the Next Antibiotic?
Disclaimer: This is not another click-baitey article about the miracles of CBD, jumping on the bandwagon of exaggerating the benefits, but a look into how the science behind antibiotics and CBD works. If there are any similarities – backed by science – between antibiotics and CBD to an extent that the latter surpasses its efficacy more than the former, we hope the reader benefits from our effort.
So let’s begin by first understanding why and how human beings stumbled across the medicinal benefits of antibiotics and CBD. Although CBD’s parent plant – cannabis – has been in use for centuries specifically for its medicinal effects, antibiotics also have existed in one form or the other for millennia to treat infections.
History of Medicine – from Cannabis to Antibiotics
For any substance to be considered an official ‘medicine’, one needs to be rigorously experimented with consistent results and proven by research. In that regard, cannabis predated antibiotics in being used as a medicine for almost a century.
· Cannabis’s Medicinal Properties
Cannabis has a long history of being a key ingredient in Chinese medicine. Some say it goes as back as 2000 years, with some evidence claiming even 5000 years ago with the Romanian’s using cannabis plant as medicine. Others still question the consistent efficacy of the ancient plant especially in today’s advanced pharmacology and taxonomy.
Still, there is enough evidence that Chinese healers used to incorporate cannabis as food, fiber, and a pain relief agent for numerous ailments. This was a purely CBD-induced effect. Chinese also used the more hallucinogenic properties of THC for mental illnesses but there is no relevant Chinese medicine literature found translated into any Western language.
For the Western world, it was in the 1830s that an Irish doctor, Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, found the cannabis extracts while studying in India. He discovered that the indigenous plant was very effective in reducing inflammation, stomach pain, nausea, and treating cholera among other diseases.
Since 1970, cannabis has been categorized as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the United States Drug Enforcement Agency’s Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. Ironically still, cannabis is the most widely cultivated and abused drug in the world, with 2.5% of the world population consuming cannabis annually, according to the World Health Organization.
· Antibiotics – Discovery of Penicillium notatum
As mentioned above, antibiotics have been in human use for millennia to treat different ailing symptoms. The type and form of antibiotics that existed back in the Egyptian civilization ranged from molds to plant extracts. It is said that Egyptians used to treat infected wounds with moldy bread.
Fast forward to the 19th century, a German physician, Paul Ehrlich studied bacteria and concluded that it was possible to develop medicines that could selectively kill some bacteria without destroying other cells. The chemical that he discovered in 1909 was the first antibiotic called ‘arsphenamine’ which was a potent cure for syphilis at that time.
Although, the term ‘antibiotic’ was coined some 30 years later by a Ukrainian-American microbiologist Selman Waksman who discovered over 20 antibiotics. One of the most commonly used and mass-produced antibiotics is penicillium notatum, discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
What Role do Antibiotics Play in Human Health Today?
Since its discovery in 1928, Penicillium notatum – or commonly called penicillin – proved to be very effective even at very small doses and way less toxic than any other disinfectant available at the time. By the Second World War, penicillin was known as a ‘wonder drug’ due to its widespread use and effectiveness during medical emergencies in war all over Europe.
These days, we have different classes and generations of antibiotics for a range of disease treatments, including:
- Carbapenems and Cephalosporins (beta-lactam)
- Glycopeptides and Lipoglycopeptides(such as vancomycin)
- Macrolides(such as erythromycin and azithromycin)
- Monobactams (aztreonam)
- Oxazolidinones(such as linezolid and tedizolid)
- Penicillins (beta-lactam)
- Streptogramins (such as quinupristin and dalfopristin)
This long list means the efficacy of antibiotics cannot be undermined any time soon since their key function of treating bacterial infections remains critical to human health and longevity.
Prevention of infections becomes a priority, especially when going for surgery; which is why prophylactic antibiotics are given to patients with abnormal or artificial heart valves before surgery to reduce the risk of infection.
Pregnancy is a tricky time to decide upon the use of antibiotics since some antibiotics are considered safer than others, such as:
Among the unsafe antibiotic during and after pregnancy is Tetracyclines, due to the possibility of being passed on from the mother to the infant via breastfeeding.
Comparison between Antibiotics and CBD
After all this discussion, let’s compare the two and figure out how they stand against, or with, each other:
Comparison of Benefits
|Anti-bacterial||Reduces swelling, soreness, pain and aches|
|Fast-acting||Improves neuron function to ease stress & depression|
|Prevent infections, especially before surgery||Relaxes muscles to reduce spasms|
|Low abuse potential|
|Low dependence potential|
Scientific studies backing CBD’s Efficacy
According to the World Health Organization’s latest report, the therapeutic uses of CBD include controlling nausea and vomiting in advanced stage-patients with cancer and AIDS. The same report quotes Dronabinol as a medicine prescribed for the aforementioned symptoms for more than a decade in the United States.
Further research studies are being conducted to find CBD’s efficacy for asthma and glaucoma and other possible therapeutic effects based on the neuropharmacology of other components of the cannabis plant, such as THC. It is encouraging to see that CBD has broken through the glass wall of limited and non-systematic research and entered into the mainstream with a continually-increasing list of medicinal benefits.
How CBD is Effective as an Antibiotic
This might come as a surprise since the science is new on this – as new as of January 2021. According to a study conducted by the University of Queensland and Botanix Pharmaceuticals, CBD can destroy a wide range of bacteria, previously resistant to common antibiotics.
With this groundbreaking discovery, CBD showed great hope in becoming a new class of antibiotics itself for being effective particularly against dental plaque bacteria, Gram-negative bacteria, meningitis, and Neisseria gonorrhea. Since naturally-occurring bacteria can build resistance to each class and generation of antibiotics, CBD is particularly effective against these types of bacteria and other pathogens. In a two-week patient treatment, the research team at the Center for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland observed the bacterial mutations could not outperform the fatal effects of CBD.
According to this research presented at the American Society for Microbiology, the already-known anti-inflammatory properties of CBD are worth exploring further for their antimicrobial potential. The way CBD attacks bacteria is by disrupting the biofilms as the outer layers of bacteria that resist existing antibiotics. As a result:
- The bacteria lost the ability of normal cell division,
- The number of autolysis genes was lowered,
- Bacterial membrane became insecure
Since the results of the research came out, scientists are hailing the combination of CBD and antibiotics as an innovative alternative to the treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The clinical trials for topical CBD formulation are already underway but further research to get consistent results in this regard is required to develop enough credibility of CBD categorized as an official ‘antibiotic’.
Side-effects of Antibiotics and CBD
As with any other substance, the side-effects or adverse reactions of both these medicines can be observed in parts of populations as follows:
|Allergic reactions||Selective impairment of cognitive development|
|Vaginal yeast infections|
|Weakens immune system|
|Adverse impact on liver and kidney function|
|Reduced effectiveness of oral contraceptives|
|Negative interactions with alcohol and dairy|
|High abuse potential|
Highlighting the last side-effect of antibiotics, with long-term increasing usage, the bacteria develop resistance to that particular antibiotic and mutate into a much stronger strain. This means any old generation antibiotic would cease to work against such bacterial infections and diseases. CBD holds a strong case in this regard by attacking the biofilms of these resistant bacteria.
Myths about CBD
Finally, we come to the most-talked-about part of CBD – the myths related to it. Well, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but let’s separate CBD from THC and proceed with the evidence. First up, we need to understand the effects of these components of cannabis.
CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant and contains a lot more therapeutic benefits than its presumed evil twin, THC. CBD has proven its efficacy in chronic and neuropathic pain, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, insomnia, social anxiety disorder, and neurodegenerative diseases.
On the other hand, THC is a major psychoactive component of cannabis and is responsible for much of the bad rap this medicinal plant gets. THC activates the CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and when smoked, it is immediately absorbed in the lungs and could also be detected in plasma and eventually into the fat tissues. This can cause prolonged psychotropic effects which may last anywhere between 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on the dosage.
Although, recent medical research on this bad boy has revealed some useful medicinal traits of THC. For example, cannabis-based medicines like dronabinol and THC analog can reduce neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, mixed chronic pain, anorexia, and behavioral symptoms in patients with dementia. With the encouraging pace of on-going research on cannabis, now you can find FDA-approved drugs with THC (Marinol and Syndros) in the United States for cancer and AIDS patients.
When used together, CBD and THC can produce the ‘entourage effect’ which has greater therapeutic benefits than each component’s individual use.
To wrap up the discussion, we need to look at the Marijuana Policy Project’s State-by-State medical marijuana laws (2015) which list down a huge array of medical conditions and diseases where medicinal cannabis can be used legally. Here’s the list:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s ulcerative colitis)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Severe or chronic pain
- Severe or chronic nausea
- Seizure disorders (epilepsy)
So to answer the question of whether CBD can be the next antibiotic: it is just a matter of time and scientific research effort before we move on from weighing the pros and cons of using antibiotics and switch to CBD altogether. In time, national legislative authorities and the medical industry will guide us towards an evolving landscape of pharmacological advancements.
If nothing else, CBD works great as a ‘helper compound’ along with existing antibiotics to enhance their benefits as bacteria fighters. This reduces the incidence of antibiotic resistance in patients since a relatively lower dosage of antibiotics would be required in tandem with CBD. But more consistent research and clinical trials are awaited for definitive results. Till then, be safe and use medicinal drugs according to a qualified doctor’s prescription.