Cannabis compound could be powerful new antibiotic

24 June 2019

A compound from cannabis has been found to be active against the bacteria responsible for many serious infections such as golden staph and pneumonia, including bacteria that have become resistant to other antibiotics, IMB research has shown. 

Dr Mark Blaskovich from IMB’s Centre for Superbug Solutions, in collaboration with Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd, found that cannabidiol, the main non-psychoactive chemical compound extracted from cannabis and hemp plants, was remarkably effective at killing a wide range of Gram-positive bacteria.

Cannabis compound potent against superbugs

Cannabidiol had a similar potency to established antibiotics such as vancomycin and daptomycin, and did not lose effectiveness after extended treatment. 

“Given cannabidiol’s documented anti-inflammatory effects, existing safety data in humans, and potential for varied delivery routes, it is a promising new antibiotic worth further investigation,” Dr Blaskovich said.

“The combination of inherent antimicrobial activity and potential to reduce damage caused by the inflammatory response to infections is particularly attractive.”

Importantly, the drug retained its activity against bacteria that have become highly resistant to other common antibiotics. Under extended exposure conditions that lead to resistance against the antibiotics vancomycin or daptomycin, cannabidiol did not lose effectiveness.

It was also effective at disrupting biofilms, a physical form of bacteria growth that leads to difficult-to-treat infections. 

Cannabidiol has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of a form of epilepsy, and is being investigated for a number of other medical conditions, including anxiety, pain and inflammation. While there was limited data to suggest cannabidiol can kill bacteria, the drug has not previously been thoroughly investigated for its potential as an antibiotic.  

The project was co-funded by Botanix, an early-stage drug discovery company investigating topical uses of synthetic cannabidiol for a range of skin conditions, and Innovation Connections, an Australian government grant scheme to commercialise new products, processes and services. 

The research was presented by Dr Blaskovich at ASM Microbe, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the world’s largest single life science society composed of more than 30,000 scientists and health professionals with the aim of promoting and advancing the microbial sciences.