Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a superbug that has been causing a lot of problems for the health community. MRSA is a particularly nasty bug because it has evolved to develop a resistance to antibiotics and other drugs commonly used against bacterial infections, making it extremely difficult to treat. It is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every year worldwide, with infections stemming from unknown vectors to sharing gym equipment.
Marijuana has long been known to have antibacterial properties, and a few preliminary but very promising studies have shown that it may be useful against bacteria such as MRSA.
The Prevalence of MRSA Infection
A study carried out in 2007 and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated just how important it is to find a way to effectively combat MRSA. The aim of the study was to provide accurate information about the “scope and magnitude” of MRSA infections in the US, and its findings provided a somber reminder of what can happen when superbugs outstrip the abilities of current medical science.
Researchers went as far as to call MRSA “a major public health problem” which was particularly damaging in hospitals and nursing homes due to the fact that such places often see patients who are extra susceptible to infection. MRSA also disproportionately affects prison inmates, African Americans, males, and people who are over 65 years of age.
An Overview of the Research on Marijuana and MRSA So Far
It wasn’t long after those alarming 2007 findings that researchers started looking towards marijuana and the antibacterial properties of its numerous cannabinoid compounds.
Only one year later, in 2008, researchers from the University of London published a study which investigated 5 different cannabinoids that are found in marijuana, including the well-known compound THC. They found that each of these 5 compounds showed “potent” activity against various strains of MRSA, and stated that these findings had “enormous” implications given the prevalence of the superbug. The study concluded with a call for more clinical trials.
The call was heeded over the course of the next two years, as two further studies identified even more cannabis compounds that could be used as antibacterial agents. The 2008 study, published in Phytochemistry, was unique in that it specifically looked at some non-cannabinoid constituents of marijuana. The different compounds showed antimicrobial and analgesic activities to varying degrees. The 2009 study from the Journal of Natural Products identified 9 new cannabinoids and also found several of them to not only be antibacterial, but antifungal as well.
While cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have been studied extensively, a 2011 study took a look at a class of cannabis compounds with unique therapeutic effects known as terpenoids. After confirming the existing findings on the antibacterial properties of a variety of cannabinoid compounds, the study also noted that terpenoids, principle among them a chemical known as pinene, was not only effective against MRSA, but against several other dangerous and antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well. You’ll likely be hearing more about these terpenoids in the years to come.