Cannabis oil could combat antibiotic resistance, study suggests

Could cannabis oil combat antibiotic resistance? CBD drops sold on the high street ‘boost the effectiveness of the infection-killing drugs’

  • Over-the-counter CBD oil prevented E.Coli from fighting off medications 
  • It stopped bacteria producing so-called outer membrane vesicles (OMVs)
  • This boosted the ability of antibiotics to kill off harmful cells more quickly

It’s said to fight off anxiety, muscle aches and insomnia – but now a study suggests CBD oil may also hold the key to fighting superbugs. 

Researchers have found the trendy health supplement can strip away the ability of bacteria to resist being killed by antibiotics. 

Bacteria release tiny compounds which help them transport nutrients and build up a defence to medications. 

But CBD oil – part of a booming market in the UK and US – was shown to prevent E. Coli from producing the so-called outer membrane vesicles (OMVs).

This boosted the ability of antibiotics to kill off the bacteria and stop them from multiplying, the University of Westminster researchers claim.

CBD has long been believed to have anti-bacterial properties, but it was not clear how this mechanism worked.

Now scientists believe by inhibiting the production of OMVs, it breaks down bacteria’s defence and allows the body to fight it off. But experts say trials in humans are now needed to investigate further. 

CBD oil may hold the key to combating superbugs because it blocks bacteria from producing a key compound (stock)

The study found one micrometre of cannabis oil reduced the production of so-called OMVs by an average of 73 per cent and five micrometres by 53 per cent. CDB’s effect on staphylococcus aureus, though, was minimal

Health bosses have repeatedly warned antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the biggest threat to modern medicine.

Bacteria learn to adapt and become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily.

The problem is propelled by the fact that no new antibiotics have been developed in decades.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.

Public Health England says around 5,000 in England die due to superbugs every year.

Researchers led by Dr Sigrun Lange, a senior lecturer in molecular pathology, grew E. Coli in a laboratory and treated the bacteria with antibiotics. 

They applied one micrometre of cannabidiol to the bacteria and assessed what effect it had after an hour. 

They then did the same with a higher dose, five micrometres, of CBD oil. 

The five antibiotics used were erythromycin, vancomycin, rifampicin, kanamycin and colistin – all of which are used to treat bacterial infections.

The lesser dose of CBD oil reduced the production of OMVs by an average of 73 per cent, while the stronger amount brought the number down by 54 per cent.

In some cases, E. Coli has been able to adapt and resist vancomycin – also used to treat skin and blood infections, meningitis and bone and joint infections.

But in this study, the CBD oil was shown to prevent the bacteria from defending itself against the drug.

Dr Lange said: ‘The antibacterial properties of cannabis oil have been known for some time, but no one knew how it worked. 

She said that previous research suggested CBD oil was a ‘potent’ regulator of OMVs. 

Dr Lange added: ‘We have now demonstrated that cannabis oil is very effective at increasing antibiotic effects through changes in membrane vesicle composition and release in bacteria.


CBD oil is a legal cannabinoid that can be sold in the UK. 

CBD contains less than 0.2 per cent of the psychoactive substance THC.

Although the oil has been thought to have some medicinal properties, including relieving inflammation, pain and anxiety, there is no conclusive science.

Suppliers in England and Wales have to obtain a licence to sell CBD as a medicine.

Manufacturers are able to avoid the strict regulation by selling it as a food supplement – ignoring the lengthy process of gaining a medicinal licence. 

CBD products comes in many forms, the most popular being an oil – which users spray under their tongue – or gel tablets which melt slowly in the mouth.

Government advisers at the MHRA found that CBD has a ‘restoring, correcting or modifying’ effect on humans.

Cannabis oil, which is different to CBD oil because it contains THC – the compound that gives users a ‘high’ – is illegal under UK laws.

Billy Caldwell, from Castlederg, Northern Ireland, made headlines last April when he became the first Briton to be prescribed it on the NHS. 

Cannabis oil, which reportedly has no side effects, influences the release and uptake of ‘feel good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. 

‘Our findings highlight that cannabis oil application, in conjunction with antibiotic treatment, may be an interesting addition to the development of new antibiotics to help reduce antibiotic resistance, especially given that antibiotic resistance is on the rise and predicted to be a global health disaster.’

But the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, only showed CBD oil to be effective on certain types of bacteria. 

When they applied the same amount of cannabis oil to staphylococcus aureus,  a harmless bacteria found on the skin, it had little effect on OMV production.   

Researchers believe it is because staphylococcus aureus is a gram-negative bacteria.

The primary difference between gram-negative and gram positive bacteria is the thickness of their cell walls. 

The researchers told MailOnline: ‘Thin walled bacteria (gram-negative) are known to release overall more numbers of membrane vesicles and also more different types of membrane vesicles than thick-walled bacteria (gram-positive).

‘Particularly in thin-walled bacteria, which also release more vesicles, CBD was found to be a very potent inhibitor of membrane vesicles. 

‘CBD was also found, in combination with the different antibiotics, to have more bacterial killing effects than when the antibiotics were used alone. 

‘Some effects on making thick-walled bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics was also observed by the team in this study. 

‘This indicates that CBD, in combination with specific antibiotics, may be used to selectively target bacteria to make them less antibiotic resistant.’

Dr Mikael Sodergren, consultant hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust hailed the study as promising and called for clinical studies in real patients.

Dr Sodergren, who is also managing director of Sapphire Medical Clinics, added: ‘This is an interesting study that adds to the body of evidence that illustrates CBD can help the body to fight infections. 

‘The next step is now to set up clinical trials to provide the evidence of benefit in real patients. 

‘As the threat of antibiotic resistance in wider population increases it is encouraging that the development of novel antibiotics and test adjuvant agents such as CBD is taking place. 

‘Sapphire Medical Clinicians will monitor this closely to see what benefit patients could seek from this promising development.’

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