Pot stock Botanix (ASX:BOT) says one of its cannabis formulations kills superbugs — in animals and in the lab.

Botanix is better known to investors as a biotech developing cannabis-based medications for skin conditions, but it also has a research line in its use as an antibacterial.

This study on animal skin infections found that the company’s “novel topical formulation” — aka a skin cream — for BTX 1801 kills two types of drug-resistant golden staph, one of which is the extremely durable methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Better yet, after 21 days of exposure, the bugs hadn’t developed a resistance.

The way it works is by disrupting bacteria biofilm, which put simply, is when bacteria get together to form a shield that is resistant to treatment by antibiotics.

Bacterial biofilms cause more than 75 per cent of microbial infections in humans.

“Cannabidiol (CBD) kills all of the available gram+ bacteria that you can test in the world but those bacteria don’t form resistance,” Botanix director Matt Callahan told Stockhead.

“It’s having a direct effect on the biofilm but more importantly it’s actually killing the bacteria (within three hours).”

Callahan says most antibiotics put a “glue” around the bacteria and stop them from multiplying, but CBD can get in and also kill them, reducing their ability to form resistance.

The company still needs to work out the dosing details for human clinical trials, but says it’ll be able to outline specifics in the September quarter.

It works, we just have no idea how

Cannabis as an antibacterial has a history going back decades, but even today no one knows exactly why it has this effect.

It was studied in the 1950s as a treatment for tuberculosis, although ironically now it’s known that smoking marijuana harms the lungs’ ability to fend off bacteria.

In 1976 a Dutch study found THC and cannabidiol (CBD) killed staphylococci and streptococci in the lab.

And in the last 20 years scientists have increasingly revisited it as a possible substitute for traditional antibiotics, which are losing the fight against bugs.

In 2008 researchers Giovanni Appendino from the Piemonte Orientale University, in Italy, and Simon Gibbons from the School of Pharmacy at the University of London, found five cannabinoids were as good at killing bacteria resistant even to the most powerful of antibiotics.

Their discovery indicated the cannabinoids evolved as the plant’s own defence against bacteria, but how they work is still a mystery — a line reiterated by a study from this year.

Callahan says they know the CBD in their treatment gets through the biofilm shield and kills the bacteria, but not how.

He speculated that it probably has something to do with CBD affecting the bacteria DNA.

Cannabis is just one tool in the superbug fight

Drug-resistant bacteria is a rapidly rising problem and new antibiotics are not being developed quickly enough to cope.

US researcher Pew Trusts says as of March 5 there were only 42 new antibiotic drugs in the global development pipeline.

According to an article in science magazine Cosmos, British economist Jim O’Neill suggested that by 2050, drug-resistant infections could kill 10 million people each year – higher than the toll from cancer.

Recently-listed Next Science (ASX:NXS) is also looking at infiltrating bacterias’ biofilm protection with its Xbio technology which attacks biofilm-protected bacteria.

Xbio is the basis for Next Science’s four FDA-cleared products currently being sold in the US to eliminate biofilm-protected bacteria in surgery and chronic wound care applications.

Recce Pharmaceuticals (ASX:RCE) is also chasing the antibiotic dream. Its lead candidate RECCE 327 has been shown in the lab to weaken the cell walls of the bacteria, resulting in bacterial cell death.

It’s focusing on tackling sepsis, which affects about 30 million people worldwide and kills about a third of those. The drug is being manufactured ahead of human trials.