A chemical compound found in cannabis could save thousands of lives by destroying the feared MRSA superbug, according to Canadian researchers.

The disease is resistant to many forms of antibiotic and scientists have previously estimated that it kills around 19,000 people per year in the United States alone. A team from McMaster University in Ontario has used a cannabinoid called cannabigerol (CBG) to successfully treat MRSA in mice.

The researchers tested 18 different commercially available cannabinoids and found that they all showed antibiotic activity. CBG was the most promising.

The researchers synthesized a large quantity of it and then went “deep into the research”. They hoped it could display antibacterial activity against drug-resistant MRSA.

It proved effective in preventing the bacteria from forming biofilms and destroying cells resistant to antibiotics. “CBG proved to be marvellous at tackling pathogenic bacteria,” said study lead Eric Brown, professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster. “The findings suggest real therapeutic potential for cannabinoids as antibiotics.”

Unlike THC, the CBG compound is non-hallucinogenic, so it will not get users high, but it could save their lives. Brown said the research “opens a therapeutic window”.

Researchers will now strive to refine the mass compound to make it more targeted towards MRSA bacteria and reducing the chance of toxicity.

Brown’s lab has studied the antibiotic potential of the cannabis plant for the last two years. It was inspired by the legalization of marijuana in Canada. Brown said that the previous stigma attached to studying cannabis has now waned, allowing researchers to make exciting discoveries about its manifold medical benefits.

Cannabis has long been known to contain antibacterial cannabinoids, but potential to address antibiotic resistance has only been superficially investigated in the past. That is now starting to change.

Scientists now regularly isolate compounds and delve into their various properties. Earlier this month, a team in Italy revealed it has discovered a cannabis compound that could be up to 33 times more potent than THC.

The new compound is called THCP, short for tetrahydrocannabiphorol, while they also reported the discovery of a previously unknown compound that bears similarities to CBD. Scientists say they are getting better at isolating and identifying new compounds.

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