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"The first thing we looked at is CBD's ability to kill bacteria," he says. "In every case, CBD had a very similar potency to that of common antibiotics."
The researchers tested the CBD against some strains of staphylococcus, which cause skin infections, and streptococcus, which cause strep throat.
They compared how effective CBD was compared to common antibiotics, such as vancomycin and daptomycin. "We looked at how quickly the CBD killed the bacteria. It's quite fast, within 3 hours, which is pretty good. Vancomycin (Vancocin) kills over 6 to 8 hours."
The CBD also disrupted the biofilm, the layer of ''goop'' around bacteria that makes it more difficult for the antibiotic to penetrate and kill.
Finally, the lab studies showed that "CBD is much less likely to cause resistance than the existing antibiotics," Blaskovich says.
The CBD ''is selective for the type of bacteria," he says.
He found it effective against gram-positive bacteria but not gram-negative. Gram-positive bacteria cause serious skin infections and pneumonia, among other conditions. Gram-negative bacteria include salmonella (found in undercooked foods) and E coli (the cause of urinary tract infections, diarrhea, and other ailments), among other bacteria.
In another study, also presented at the meeting, the researchers tested topical CBD to treat a skin infection on mice. It cut the number of bacteria after 48 hours, Blaskovich says, although it did not clear the infection. That research is ongoing.
The researchers can't say exactly how the CBD may prove to be a superbug infection fighter. "We thought it might work by damaging the outer membrane of the bacteria, to make it leaky," Blaskovich says. "It doesn't seem to do that. It might be a completely new mechanism of action."
Brandon Novy, a microbiology researcher at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, calls the study findings ''very promising,'' since the results show the bacteria were not able to form resistance to the CBD, and since the bacteria were not able to form a biofilm.
Both findings are important. "The biofilm is an important part of the whole infection process," he says. "It helps the bacteria attach [to whatever surface or host] and survive."
At the same meeting, Novy presented a preliminary study, finding that CBD also looks promising to fight some gram-negative infections.