Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin G, the first antibiotic, in 1928, but it wasn’t commercially used as a treatment for bacterial infections until 1942. Prontosil was the first antibacterial medicine and was created by Gerhard Domagk in the 1930s. Today, penicillin is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. The list consists of ‘effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.’
In the developing world, the wholesale cost is as little as $0.24 per day, yet a course of treatment can cost up to $200 in the United States! Estimates vary, but penicillin has saved anywhere from 80 million to 200 million lives since its discovery. During World War II alone, the drug saved up to 15% of the Allied troops by curing diseases such as sepsis and pneumonia.
While penicillin is the most famous antibiotic, it is a long way from being the only one.
Numerous antibiotics were created in the wake of the success of penicillin and saved countless lives in the process. Unfortunately, scientists have discovered the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA, CRE, VRE, and MDR-TB. For example, MRSA bacteria are resistant to penicillin.
The heightened resistance results in patients consuming alarming quantities of antibiotics which can prove toxic. These bacteria can also spread rapidly, through contact with the contaminated hands of hospital staff, or contact with contaminated surfaces such as bed tables and doors in hospitals.
The main method of preventing antibiotic resistance is to reduce the number of antibiotic prescriptions. It is also important to complete the entire course of an antibiotic to reduce the risk of resistance. The issue is especially prevalent in the U.S., which has one of the highest rates of antibiotic prescriptions in the world. A CDC report from 2016 said that healthcare providers prescribed 836 antibiotics per 1000 people in America!
Antibiotic bacteria have become such a problem that researchers are desperately seeking other medication methods that aren’t susceptible. CBD, the most abundant non-intoxicating compound in marijuana, is heralded by some as one of these solutions.
How Does Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Affect People?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, world security, and development today.” The rate at which antibiotic-resistant bacteria are growing is incredibly concerning, and it is very much a global problem. Of course, it is one of the biggest issues with medication in the United States as well.
The CDC released a rather disturbing set of statistics relating to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in America based on a report written in 2013. Each year in the U.S., an estimated two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and 23,000 people die annually as a result.
An unspecified number of people perish due to conditions complicated by antibacterial resistance.
Research by Aslam et al., published in the Infection and Drug Resistance journal in October 2018, looked at antibiotic resistance, an issue the authors described as a ‘global crisis.’ In the report, the authors wrote that the ‘golden era’ of antibiotics took place between the 1930s and 1960s when many new ones were created. Alas, the era ended because researchers were unable to maintain the hot pace with the emergence of resistant pathogens.
While we had created magic bullets that saved millions of lives in the short to medium-term, it has now resulted in a brand-new problem capable of killing countless people worldwide. The report by Aslam suggested that there are approximately 20,000 potential resistance genes, although the ‘functional resistance determinants in various microbes’ are significantly fewer.
The report starkly disagreed with the CDC report, which is probably outdated. It claimed that antibiotic-resistant pathogen-associated hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) kill almost 100,000 Americans each year. In 2006 alone, sepsis and pneumonia resulted in the deaths of 50,000 Americans and cost the U.S. economy around $8 billion. It costs an average of $29,000 to treat each patient who has an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.
Overall, the list of reasons for antibacterial resistance is long and includes:
- An enormous increase in availability and use since the 1950s.
- Uncontrolled sale of antibiotics in low and middle-income countries where it is possible to make a purchase over-the-counter. In many cases, antibiotics are used needlessly, which only hastens bacterial resistance.
- Antibiotic usage in livestock.
- Environmental pollution.
Antibacterial resistant bacteria emerge due to one of the following mechanisms:
- A natural resistance amongst specific types of bacteria.
- Genetic mutation.
- One species of bacteria acquiring resistance from another.
There are also some preventive measures in place, including:
- Only using antibiotics as and when needed.
- Choosing narrow-spectrum antibiotics over their broad-spectrum counterpart.
- Utilization of proper hygiene methods amongst hospital staff.
The increasing rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria growth is chiefly caused by the usage of antimicrobials in humans and animals along with the spread of resistant strains between species. When you take antibiotics, you are increasing the rate of ‘selective pressure’ in populations of bacteria and cause the death of ‘vulnerable’ bacteria. The bacteria that remain are strong and continue to grow.
While antibiotics kill the bacteria that cause your illness, they also kill the ‘good’ bacteria that protect the body, while failing to destroy the antibiotic-resistant strains.
Resistant bacteria multiply and cause further illness. Eventually, the resistant bacteria can provide drug-resistance to other bacteria which leaves you completely vulnerable to all manner of illnesses.
Globally, antibacterial resistance accounts for 700,000 deaths per annum; a figure that could rise to a shocking 10 million by 2050. If the trend continues to the end of the century, antibiotic-resistant bacteria could end up killing more people than were saved by antibiotics in the first place!
In the Aslam report, the authors mention analysis completed by an American non-profit called Research and Development Corporation. The firm outlined a ‘worst case’ scenario where the planet could be left without any strong antimicrobial agent to handle bacterial infections!
In this situation, the global economic burden would reach $3 trillion per annum; an amount equivalent to the entire American healthcare system’s budget! By 2050, 444 million people would have an infection and cause the world’s birthrate to plummet. We need an alternative to antibiotics. Is CBD the answer?
How Can CBD Help with Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria?
If patients are unable to tackle a bacterial infection with antibiotics, what other options do they have? Taking large doses is potentially dangerous, but thankfully, there is an all-natural solution at our fingertips. Scientists are confident that CBD exhibits a level of anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that enables people to consume it, achieve relief for their condition, and not have to worry about deadly infections.
The Research on CBD
In 2008, a group of Italian and British researchers combined their skills to create a study that could ultimately change history. They tested five different marijuana cannabinoids (including CBD) against six different strains of ‘superbug’ MRSA and discovered that every single cannabinoid showed ‘potent activity’ against the various bacteria strains. The cannabinoids used in the study were CBD, THC, cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and CBN.
The activity was described as ‘exceptional’ against several strains including SA-1199B which is known to be resistant to several pharmaceutical drugs. The cannabinoids were also particularly effective against EMRSA-15 and EMRSA-16.
According to Simon Gibbons, one of the authors of the study, the marijuana plant has evolved the various compounds as antimicrobial defenses that specifically target bacterial cells. One downside is that scientists are unable to determine the precise mechanism that kills the bugs.
No other similar study had been performed since 1976, and the research by Gibbons and his team was not followed up for over a decade. Given the dangers caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it seems incredible that research into CBD’s effects on these bacteria has been so slow. With the passing of the Farm Bill into law in December 2018, industrial hemp is now legal to grow. While CBD is not strictly legal, it is available in all but three states.
Finally, another important study into the effects of CBD on antibiotic-resistant bacteria took place. It was led by Dr. Mark Blaskovich of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Superbug Solutions. The study was presented to the American Society of Microbiology in June 2019.
Blaskovich’s team tested CBD against different bacteria, including strains known to be resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics. In the study, the team initially looked at cannabidiol’s ability to kill bacteria. In each case, the marijuana compound’s potency was similar to many common antibiotics.
Next, the team tested CBD on strains of streptococcus, which causes strep throat, and staphylococcus, which causes skin infections. The goal in this instance was to compare CBD to regularly used antibiotics such as daptomycin and vancomycin. While the latter antibiotic killed bacteria in six hours, CBD killed them in just three hours! The cannabidiol disrupted the layer of material (biofilm) that’s around bacteria, which makes it hard for antibiotics to penetrate and kill.
The studies also showed that CBD is also less likely to result in bacterial resistance than the antibiotics currently on the market.
According to Blaskovich, the CBD “is selective for the type of bacteria.” Researchers found that while CBD wasn’t effective against gram-negative bacteria (such as E.coli and salmonella), it worked well against gram-positive bacteria which cause conditions including pneumonia.
The researchers presented another study at the meeting where topical CBD was used to treat a skin infection on mice. Within 48 hours, the compound reduced the number of bacteria, although it ultimately didn’t clear the infection.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oils and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
While there is nothing straightforward in the world of medicine, it seems obvious that CBD is at least worth trying in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At present, MRSA alone accounts for more deaths per annum than AIDS in the United States, and the problem with these ‘superbugs’ is only going to get worse.
While the research by Blaskovich and his team gives us cause for hope, it didn’t prove that CBD can fight against superbugs. According to Blaskovich, CBD worked very differently from what the researchers expected. They believed it would damage the bacteria’s outer membrane, but it has a completely different way of behaving. If nothing else, it is an extremely important study that must be followed up. Hopefully, it won’t take another 11 years!
Marijuana is still inexplicably a Schedule 1 drug according to the United States Government despite a lengthy list of studies showing its medical benefits. While there is nothing we can do about that for the time being, it is extremely easy to get your hands on CBD in 47 states plus Washington D.C. Residents in Idaho face obstacles, while those who live in South Dakota and Nebraska are breaking the law by using CBD at the time of writing. It is a strange state of affairs since industrial hemp is now legal to grow in the U.S.!
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