HEMP: The Anti-Antibiotic
By Dr Nicola Davies
Bacteria are becoming increasingly antibiotic resistant, giving rise to superbugs and making antibiotics obsolete. How can hemp and hemp derivatives (oil, milk, seeds) take over from the failing antibiotic industry?
The World Health Organization has called antibiotic resistance “one of the biggest threats to human health today.” Bacteria that were once affected by antibiotics have grown resistant to the substances that were so efficient in stopping their growth in the past. This resistance has created ‘superbugs’ — strains of bacteria that are particularly resistant to both broad and narrow-spectrum antibiotics.
Resistance develops when bacteria come into contact with antibiotics or other bacteria that have been exposed to antibiotics and mutate into stronger genetic strains. Overexposure to antibiotics is largely due to misdiagnosis and overuse of common antibiotics, from a global right down to an individual level. However, new studies are showing that hemp, or cannabis sativa, can offset the danger of antibiotic resistance on many levels.
From the Farm to the Table
On a global scale, bacteria in food production, much like the bacteria in our bodies, are evolving to become increasingly resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Medium to large-scale farms producing meat and vegetables sometimes use antibiotics to compensate for crowded and unclean living conditions, even in the absence of infection. This is one reason for the rise in organic food awareness. Organic foods tend to cost more, as high standards of hygiene are required for the livestock and the soil for produce. As a result, farmers are looking for inexpensive organic alternatives for livestock and crops.
In a case in Denmark, the addition of hemp oil to piglet feed dramatically reduced the incidence of gastrointestinal infection. Gastrointestinal infection is the highest cause of mortality in piglets, and a key reason why farmers give antibiotics prophylactically. However, this builds resistance among bacteria, which may then be passed on to the consumer. This has spawned an academic study exploring the outcome of adding cold-pressed hemp oil and hemp protein to the diets of livestock throughout their lives. The project is part of a three-year ongoing study, targeted for completion in July 2017. The data is extremely promising for organic farms across the globe.
Hemp oil can also be used to replace antibiotics used on produce; helping to curtail the resistant strains by keeping antibiotics from spreading plant to plant via water and soil. The danger of antibiotics in produce is that if plants infected with a resistant strain of bacteria are sprayed with an antibiotic, only the susceptible bacteria will die, leaving the stronger, more resistant bacteria to multiply. Resistant genes exist for tetracycline and streptomycin, two common antibiotics used in agriculture. In addition, the antibiotic chemicals seep into the soil and create resistance in the bacteria on other plants. As part of a systematic investigation of central European plants, hemp oil was found to be more effective than streptomycin and penicillin in terms of anti-bacterial traits and natural antibodies, but without the danger of creating antibiotic resistance.
On a Personal Level
Resistant bacteria are not only being served to us via our food, but also via our personal choices. Simple decisions such as not taking a prescribed antibiotic for its full course can leave lingering live bacteria that grow stronger. Other times, antibiotics are prescribed when they aren’t needed. Colds and flu, for example, are caused by viruses that aren’t affected by antibiotics and shouldn’t be treated with antibiotics. Rather than overusing antibiotics, it has been suggested that adding hemp seeds to a person’s diet increases the body’s natural production of antibodies.
Like flax seeds, hemp seeds have all of the essential amino acids that the body needs to resist illness. They also have the highest content of edestin, a type of globulin, in the entire plant family. Globulins are one of the top three most abundant proteins in the human body and are responsible for acquired and natural immunity against harmful outside organisms. The body uses globulins to make antibodies, which attack infectious agents via their antigens. A person’s ability to resist and recover from infections and illness is directly proportionate to how quickly their body can generate large quantities of antibodies to defend against the initial onslaught of antigens. If globulins are in low supply, there is a higher chance of antigens overcoming the body’s immune response. As 65 percent of hemp seed protein is the globulin edestin, it is obvious how it can be used in place of antibiotics in many cases of infection.
The Destruction of Superbugs
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a strain of bacteria that has become non-responsive to most antibiotics. Often carried on the skin and in the nose, Staphylococcus aureus is profoundly problematic when it has an opportunity to invade the bloodstream to cause “Staph” infections. When antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus infect someone with a weakened immune system, such as the ill or elderly, the infection can quickly become life-threatening. As resistance to antibiotics increases, some strains of bacteria are becoming immune to vancomycin, the “last resort” antibiotic that is currently used when all others fail.
Recently, Simon Gibbons of the School of Pharmacy at the University of London and Giovanni Appendino of the Piemonte Orientale University in Italy tested five different cannabinoids with regard to their ability to kill MRSA. The results were impressive. Of the five cannabinoids tested, the two with the highest effectiveness in killing the resistant bacteria were extracted from industrial hemp with low THC content and non-psychoactive properties; meaning they would not produce a “high.” This is encouraging, as most protests against the use of hemp products stem from the stigma around the plant’s cousin, marijuana. During their study, Gibbons and Appendino discovered that hemp extracts were as effective in treating infection as many known antibiotics, including vancomycin. More recent studies have shown that hemp extracts are effective in treating Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis.
Hope on the Horizon
The future of hemp products in the treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections is hopeful. With a growing number of U.S. states legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, the allocation of funds to researching hemp extracts is likely to rise. Hemp seeds and oil are available for purchase online or at some health food stores, and given their ability to boost the immune system and resist bacteria, their inclusion in daily diet should, arguably, be recommended – not only for personal health, but to reduce the need for antibiotics moving forward.
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