Cannabis budding as a new weapon against superbugs

Scientists at McMaster University have found cannabigerol, or CBG, to be surprisingly effective at killing one of the most common hospital superbugs

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New research out of McMaster University in Hamilton suggests that cannabis may indeed be a saviour in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria.

Scientists have been experimenting with various compounds in cannabis sativa and have found one, cannabigerol or CBG, to be surprisingly effective at killing one of the most common hospital superbugs, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It’s been more than 30 years since the last discovery of a new drug to fight infections such as MRSA.

Lab tests show that this non-psychoactive compound killed common MRSA microbes, as well as “persister” cells, a dormant version of live cells that are often the cause of repeat infections. CBG also cleared away “biofilms” of MRSA. Dental plaque is an example of a biofilm.

Researchers also tested the compound’s ability to treat infections in animals. In a yet-to-be-published study, they found that CBG cured mice of MRSA infections as effectively as Vancomycin, which is considered to be the last line of defence against drug-resistant microbes. The study is under review.

Eric Brown, a microbiologist who led the research, says it is early days and that a lot more work needs to be done to determine the potential and safety of CBG as an antibiotic in a clinical setting.

The World Health Organization’s list of “priority pathogens” posing the greatest threat to human health names Staphylococcus aureus as the leading cause of both health-care and community-associated infections in the world.

Weed plants have a long history of being used in medicine. The study authors note that there is a growing body of scientific evidence that certain compounds found in cannabis are effective in the treatment of, among other conditions, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome and other neurological diseases. Studies, however, are few and are in their infancy.

Bacteria fall into two classes, depending on the makeup of their cells. MRSA bugs are known as gram-positive bacteria, which have a single-cell membrane. Gram-negative bugs are different in that they have an inner and outer cell membrane, making these infections harder to treat.

CBG was effective in killing gram-positive bacteria, but Brown and his team found that it was ineffective in killing gram-negative bacteria. The crafty researchers, however, found that when they combined CBG with small quantities of polymyxin B, an existing antibiotic that disrupts the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria, the weed compound was then able to wipe out the drug-resistant pathogens.

The study abstract reports: “Combination antibiotic therapy is becoming an increasingly attractive approach to combat drug-resistant bacteria.”

Brown says he is now preparing the necessary paperwork so he can get started working with a wide variety of cannabinoids.

Coincidentally, McMaster University is home to the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Scientists there, and at its affiliates, are performing research on how smoking weed affects lung cells, how cannabis may be an appropriate alternative to opioids and how some of the many cannabinoids in weed may have other medical applications.

Brown says, “There is a lot of excitement around medical applications of cannabis and I think this is justified, but there is still much to learn. Ultimately, scientific rigour will be critical to unlock the real potential of cannabinoids in medicine.”


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