UK Health Officials Are Under Pressure to Legalize Cannabis-Based Antibiotics ASAP
Researchers are working to create a new class of cannabis-derived antibiotics to treat gonorrhea, meningitis, and other treatment-resistant infections; and this treatment could be here in the next five years.
Published on February 25, 2021

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Cannabis activists are urging UK health officials to consider using cannabis-derived antibiotics to combat a future epidemic of treatment-resistant bacteria. 

Research into the antibacterial properties of cannabis is still in its early stages, but Professor Mike Barnes, co-founder of UK cannabis industry group Maple Tree Consultancy, believes that CBD-based antibiotics could be legal before the end of the decade. “I think we’re five years plus away,” Barnes told Metro UK. “A pessimist might say 10 years, [but] I think that’s too much given the plethora of research at the moment.”

Last month, Australian researchers published a study demonstrating that CBD can kill the bacteria responsible for gonorrhea, meningitis, and legionnaires disease. Traditional antibiotics used to be effective at treating these infections, but more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to these treatments. The World Health Organization (WHO) now warns that “super gonorrhea” and other treatment-resistant infections are on the rise, and could potentially kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

Cannabis researchers are confident that a new class of cannabinoid antibiotics could stem the tide of deadly superbugs, though. In addition to the recent Australian study, other clinical trials have found that cannabinoids like CBD and CBG can kill MRSA, a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria increasingly found in healthcare facilities. Other studies have even found that CBD is better at killing the bacteria responsible for tooth decay than traditional toothpaste.

But although CBD can easily kill these bacteria in a laboratory setting, scientists are still struggling to find a way to make it work in humans. When a person takes a CBD pill or tincture, most of that CBD binds to blood plasma, leaving little left over to fight infections. Or, “to put very crudely, if you put CBD on a plate with bacteria it kills it very quickly, but if you put it in a tablet form it won’t kill it very quickly,” Barnes explained to Metro UK.

The UK Home Office legalized medical cannabis in 2018, but since then, health officials have done little to advance the acceptance of this new medicine. So far, the UK has only approved two very specific cannabis-derived medications, and most Brits are still unable to find or afford medical marijuana. 

Professor Barnes, who recently helped convince the UK Home Office to accept Sativex, a synthetic cannabis medication for multiple sclerosis, is now urging the government to set aside its aversion to cannabis before it is too late. “To get something that helps against... antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which is a WHO top priority, you would hope that it would be fast-tracked through the approval system to get this onto the market as soon as possible,” he told Metro UK.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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