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The Antimicrobial Potential of CBD

Scientist pours CBD oil to test for antimicrobial effects

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid, a natural compound derived from the cannabis plant. These cannabinoids—a designation that includes CBD, THC, CBG, CBN and others—possess a variety of unique healing properties. For example, users take CBD oil to treat chronic pain, inflammation, and more. But scientists recently posed another health question: Does CBD have antimicrobial properties?

NOTE: “Antimicrobial” is used to describe substances that reduce the number of microbes (like bacteria and mold). If scientists conclude that CBD oil offers an antimicrobial effect, we could use it to kill bacteria as well as increase our resistance to bacteria. In addition, topical CBD formulations (like CBD-infused lotion, for example) could offer additional external protection from environmental stressors.

However, according to recent scientific reports, CBD oil’s purported antimicrobial effects could go a step further. Let’s look at the recent advancements in CBD science and answer the question, does CBD have antimicrobial properties?

Is CBD Oil Antimicrobial: What the Science Says

Scientists first believed in cannabis as an antimicrobial agent back in the 1950s, but researchers did not specifically attribute observed antimicrobial activity to cannabinoids. Are there any current studies that support cannabis as a new-age antimicrobial agent?

2020’s Journal of Antibiotics Research

According to a 2020 report published in the journal Antibiotics, there is a distinct need for increased research into cannabinoid resistance to bacteria.

According to their research, “The Antimicrobial Activity of Cannabinoids”, “Several cannabinoids have been found to have potent antimicrobial activity.” The most notable cannabinoids with antimicrobial properties include CBD and THC, which happen to be the two most popular cannabinoids for therapeutic use.

But the journal Antibiotics‘ research doesn’t stop there. Endocannabinoids—defined as cannabinoids created internally within the human body—have “shown to be effective in eradicating biofilms.” And in case you didn’t know, biofilms are complex bacterial structures, often referred to as bacteria colonies.

You also probably heard of full spectrum or broad spectrum CBD products, but if not, here’s a recap: both full spectrum and broad spectrum extracts come from the whole hemp plant. Extracts of this kind contain a variety of natural compounds, including terpenes, amino acids, and more. This research states that “Terpenes have promising antimicrobial activity [in addition to cannabinoids], which warrants further investigation.”

Furthermore, this research indicates that cannabinoids in combination with other bacterial agents have shown broad antimicrobial activity. With this in mind, scientists could create advanced antibacterial formulations using a combination of cannabinoid products like CBD oil and other known compounds that kill bacteria.

2021’s Communications Biology Research

According to a research study presented in Communications Biology, published on January 19 of this year, “CBD has some remarkably useful antimicrobial activity beyond that previously prescribed.”

The team at Communications Biology not only corroborated the information presented in 2020’s Antibiotics report, but showed how different topical CBD formulations can kill specific bacteria. For example, “CBD and other cannabinoids have selective activity against…[the] drug-resistant pathogen N. gonorrhoeae.” This pathogen is responsible for the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea. On top of that, N. gonorrhoeae is increasingly unresponsive to existing antibiotics, is listed as an urgent priority bacteria by the CDC, and a high priority bacteria by the World Health Organization (WHO).

This research study also states CBD has similar antimicrobial activity against other strains of bacteria. These include:

  • C. acnes, responsible for the skin condition acne.
  • C. difficile, responsible for inflammation in the colon.
  • L. pneumophila, responsible for Legionnaires’ disease.
  • N. meningitidis, responsible for life-threatening meningitis.
  • M. catarrhalis, responsible for airway infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.

Furthermore, this study indicates that CBD’s antimicrobial activity can be used against biofilms, similar to the journal Antibiotics‘ findings on endocannabinoids. 

The journal Communications Biology‘s research also demonstrates that the use of topical CBD formulations does NOT lead to drug-resistant bacteria, even after repeated exposure. This is great news for both cannabis research and antibiotic drug development as a whole.

Why?

The Need for Antimicrobial Compounds is Higher than Ever!

We are swiftly approaching a post-antibiotic world. What does this mean? According to Steven Ross Johnson, a reporter at Modern Healthcare, “Experts have warned that the rate at which pathogens are growing progressively resistant to antibiotics is bringing the world dangerously close to a ‘post-antibiotic’ era. Some say that threshold has already been breached.”

If Johnson’s claims are to be believed, what would that entail for modern medicine? For starters, humanity would have to stave off a variety of drug-resistant bacteria. It is estimated that 10 million people could die from these bacteria strains every year, with the economic impact climbing to $100 trillion. The WHO has also ranked drug-resistant bacteria as one of the three greatest threats to healthcare systems globally.

Believe it or not, only four new antibiotics have reached the public over the last four decades. The need for potent antimicrobial agents with novel modes of action is higher than ever. Without them, we’ll continue to see the rampant emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria.

At least with cannabis and cannabinoids, specifically, there is hope for a naturally-derived antimicrobial agent with the power to kill bacteria. Plus, because topical CBD formulations and other CBD products do not lead to drug-resistant bacteria, these formulations may hold the key for long-term antibacterial compounds or combinations.

It is clear that more research is needed to fully understand the antimicrobial potential of CBD and other cannabinoids like THC. However, if scientific studies follow the same trends we’ve seen in Antibiotics and Communications Biology, we may soon understand the reach of CBD’s extensive therapeutic benefits.

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