CBD could provide the basis for new antibiotics able to fight drug-resistant gonorrhoea, meningitis and MRSA, Australian scientists believe.

Researchers at the University of Queensland uncovered the first evidence that synthetic cannabidiol can kill so-called gram negative bacteria, which antibiotics struggle with due to the microscopic bugs’ additional outer membrane.

Gonorrhoea, the sexually transmitted infection (STI) commonly known as ‘the clap’, is one gram-negative pathogen to have enjoyed a most unwelcome resurgence in recent years.

Drug-resistant gonorrhoea, which is expected to surge once more when Covid-19 restrictions dwindle and lockdown-constrained sex lives rebound, is on the cusp of becoming untreatable, the World Health Organisation has warned.

But the Queensland researchers found CBD can penetrate and kill the bacteria, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes it.

First breakthrough for decades

A statement issued by the university’s website said the discovery could lead to the first new class of antibiotics capable of tackling resistant bacteria for 60 years.

As has been well documented, the world is in dire need of such discoveries as bacteria adapt and existing substances are over-prescribed and recklessly used in breeding animals for human consumption.

The alarming comeback staged by infectious diseases that were thought vanquished just a few decades ago has been described by some experts as a problem comparable to global warming in terms of its existential threat to society as we know it.

As well as establishing CBD’s ability to destroy super-tough gram-negative bacteria, the new study found the cannabis derivative was effective against a far greater range of gram-positive bacteria than had previously been thought.

MRSA trial

These include drug-resistant bugs such as the hospital superbug MRSA.

“We think CBD kills bacteria by bursting their outer cell membranes, but we don’t know yet exactly how it does that, and need to do further research,” said Mark Blaskovich, an associate professor at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

The research team also discovered that chemical analogs – created by slightly changing CBD’s molecular structure – were active against bacteria.

“This is particularly exciting because there have been no new molecular classes of antibiotics for gram-negative infections discovered and approved since the 1960s, and we can now consider designing new analogs of CBD within improved properties,” said Dr Blaskovich.