Cannabinoids May Help Treat Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

    Posted by Diane Campbell on Oct 25, 2015 9:00:00 AM


    MRSA Superbugs

    Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, commonly known as MRSA, includes 18 separate organisms that have been designated as “superbugs” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because of their resistance to certain types of antibiotics. The CDC estimates that over 75,000 Americans per year experience invasive MRSA infections,[1] which result in an estimated mortality rate of 20%.[2]


    Treatment for MRSA Patients

    While people who are generally healthy and contract mild MRSA infections experience a high recovery rate, those who are very young, elderly, or have compromised immune systems are at greater risk. MRSA infections are mostly classified as either health care acquired or community acquired, depending upon the setting in which they are contracted.

    Community-acquired MRSA usually begins as a skin infection and can often be treated successfully on an outpatient basis with oral or topical preparations; however, some cases, such as those that result in pneumonia, may require treatment with IV antibiotics. Cases of health care-acquired MRSA, which may begin in a surgical wound or at the site of a medical device such as a catheter, are frequently treated with IV-administered vancomycin. This treatment is known to cause serious side effects in some patients, including kidney damage, permanent hearing loss, and life-threatening bleeding and bruising.[3]


    Cannabinoid Research

    A 2008 study explored the potential of five major cannabinoids to fight MRSA. Researchers explored the properties of THC, CBD, CBC, CBG, and CBN, all of which “showed potent activity against a variety of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains of current clinical relevance.” They found the activity of the cannabinoids to compare favorably to that of standard antibiotics currently used for some of the most problematic MRSA strains, showing particular promise as topical treatments to reduce these strains of bacteria on the skin with the goal of preventing invasive infections.[4]



    Professor Giovanni Appendino, one of the researchers in this study, pointed out that the two cannabinoids that showed the most potential in this study, CBG and CBD, are non psychoactive. “What this means,” he said, “is we could use fiber hemp plants that have no use as recreational drugs to cheaply and easily produce potent antibiotics.” 

    While the research produced promising results, scientists are not yet clear on exactly how cannabinoids exert their antibacterial strength. “Everything points towards these compounds having been evolved by the plants as antimicrobial defenses that specifically target bacterial cells,” remarked Simon Gibbons, another researcher on the project, “but the actual mechanism by which they kill the bugs is still a mystery…. I really cannot hazard a guess how they do it, but their high potency as antibiotics suggests there must be a very specific mechanism.”[5]


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    [1] "Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Infections." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 16 Sept 2013. Web. 21 Oct 2015.

    [2] "MRSA Infection Prognosis." WebMD, Inc., 5 Nov 2014. Web. 21 Oct 2015.

    [3] "Side Effects of Vancomycin IV." Demand Media, Inc., 3 July 2015. Web. 21 Oct 2015.

    [4] Appendino, et al. "Antibacterial Cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: A Structure−Activity Study" Journal of Natural Products. American Chemical Society & The American Society of Pharmacognosy. 6 Aug 2008. Web. 16 Oct 2015. 

    [5] Schultz. "A New MRSA Defense: Marijuana extracts kill antibiotic-resistant MRSA without a high." MIT Technology Review. n.p., 12 Sept 2008. Web. 21 Oct 2015.

    The Nature’s Gift Shop blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal advice or a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice a qualified health care provider if you have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of anything you read on this website.


    Image source: By NIAID/NIH (NIAID Flickr's photostream) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Topics: medical marijuana