In the United States, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) kills about 18,000 of the 94,000 people it infects each year—a rate that has doubled in the last five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MRSA is a bacterium that causes skin infections, starting with red bumps that erupt into boils filled with pus. In bad cases, MRSA can infect the lungs, urinary tract, and bloodstream. While many people can come into contact with MRSA without any problems—between 5 percent and 10 percent of people are carriers—immuno-compromised people have difficulty fighting it off.
MRSA presents a major health threat because the many strains of the bacteria don’t respond to most common antibiotics. MRSA is growing stronger, increasingly showing up in healthy people, particularly among athletes engaged in contact sports. In a two-year study, college football and soccer athletes were found to be twice as likely (about 31 percent) to be carrying the superbug, compared to 0–23 percent of athletes in non-contact sports.
Cannabinoids are gaining momentum among patients and doctors as an effective way to kill bacteria. Recently researchers in Italy and the United Kingdom proved that cannabinoids can be effectively used to treat MRSA.
Two of the five types of cannabis shown effective against are non-psychoactive, so those treated would not get “high.” Together with other constituent molecules, THC, the compound that gives the user a euphoric feeling, could prevent or reduce the painful lesions caused by MRSA infections.
Research is underway to create effective cannabis-based anti-bacterial topicals to treat skin infections.
Cannabis and Tuberculosis
Cannabis is a well-documented antibiotic. In the 1950s a study suggested that cannabis was an excellent treatment for tuberculosis (TB) and similar diseases. But research into using cannabis as an antibiotic agent was derailed due to ignorance and fear. Scientists had too little knowledge of the plant’s active ingredients and were afraid to work with it out of legal concerns and its stigma as a recreational drug.
Today, marijuana’s antimicrobial effects on TB and similar microbes make it a hopeful contender in the fight against new drug-resistant strains of TB that no longer respond to conventional antibiotic therapies.
Cannabis and Prion Diseases
Researchers have learned cannabinoids might be effective in fighting a class of proteins called “prions” known to trigger mad cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases. Prion diseases, or Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. TSEs are distinguished by long incubation periods, characteristic spongiform changes associated with neuronal loss, and a failure to induce inflammatory response. Prion proteins can cause neurodegenerative diseases that progress rapidly and are invariably fatal. Once prions get into a brain, they replicate rapidly and shred brain tissue.
Specific medicinal compounds found in cannabis may hold the key to treating these neurodegenerative scourges. The marijuana molecule cannabidiol (CBD) “prevents prion accumulation and protects neurons against prion toxicity,” according to research study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The study concluded that CBD “likely represents a new class of anti-prion drugs” by inhibiting prion formation and accumulation in diseased cell cultures of mice and sheep.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there is no FDA-approved treatment that can cure or even control prion disease. This is a unique opportunity to unlock the healing power of cannabis medicine and make a major worldwide impact in winning the battle against superbugs and associated diseases.
Cannabis is a hardy and ancient plant that survived and evolved in harsh environments for over a million years by producing compounds that strengthen and protect the plant from harsh environmental conditions and hazards, like ultraviolet radiation, insect infestations, diseases, and infections.
Scientists report that marijuana’s antimicrobial properties are beneficial to humans, too, shielding the body’s immune system against the frightening epidemic of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
As bacteria become stronger, the antibiotics we’ve relied on for eighty years are proving ineffective. We need to look for superior treatments to fight these superbugs, and cannabis could well be the answer.