Herbal Superdrugs for the Superbugs!

 The below article appeared in the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild JAHG: Volume 13 | Number 1, pg. 51-54

Reductionist’s Rant:

Could cannabis be the superdrug of the year? In an effort to compile lists of herbs and phytochemicals that might help control some of the emerging superbugs, I was intrigued to find that five of the cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa were quite active against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA. Along with this important information about cannabinoids, I share in this rant a quick list of herbs and phytochemicals that have shown promise against MRSA and also methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), as well as some other species are also cited herein as ”anti-Staphylococcus.”

A particularly interesting paper compared the anti-Staphylococcus actions of the principal cannabinoids with pharmaceuticals. Under lead author Giovanni Appendino, the scientists studied four pharmaceuticals against a panel of six strains of Staphylococcus getting a wide spectrum of minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs): erythromycin MIC=0.25->128 ug/ mL; norflaxacin 0.5-128 ug/mL; oxacillin 0.25-128 ug/mL; and tetracycline 0.25-128 ug/ mL. Keeping in mind that the lower the MIC, the more potent the chemical, that makes the cannabinoids look pretty good indeed, with low MICs: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 0.5-2 ug/mL; cannabidiol (CBD) 0.5-2 ug/mL; cannabinol (CBN) 1 ug/mL; cannabichromene (CBC) 1-2 ug/mL; and cannabigerol (CBG) 1-2 ug/mL (PubMed ID 18681481). I’m surprised no one has yet tried to encapsulate some of these in silver nanoparticles.

As this edition of the JAHG focuses on botanical essential oils, I’ll point out that noted cannabis researcher Ethan Russo posed the question, “Are cannabis terpenoids relevant
to the effects of cannabis?” in a paper entitled “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy
and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects” (PubMed ID 21749363). Terpenoids are components of essential oils that give a plant (in this case cannabis) its distinctive scent. Over 200 terpenoids have been identified in cannabis, but Russo’s paper singles out eight, all of which are widely distributed in the plant world and are GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by FDA standards. They are listed here with examples of common plants that contain them:

Limonene, commonly found in lemons Alpha-pinene, commonly found in pine                  Beta-myrcene, commonly found in hops                                                                                Linalool, commonly found in lavender                                                                                          Beta-caryophyllene, commonly found in black pepper                                                Caryophyllene oxide, commonly found in lemon balm
Nerolidol, commonly found in oranges                                                                                       Phytol, commonly found in green tea

This study notes that while each terpenoid has its own set of pharmacological actions ranging from anti-inflammatory to anxiolytic, they may also act synergistically with cannabinoids to treat various diseases as well as to counteract effects of THC. More to the point of this article, the aromatic component pinene, commonly found in pine as well as in cannabis, was found to be effective against MRSA. Combined with the powerful anti-MRSA actions of the cannabinoids mentioned above, cannabis as an anti-MRSA agent is looking better all the time.

Big Pharma, CDC and FDA once praised antibiotics, often mono chemical derivatives of fungi, as the wave of the future. That failed future has come and gone! “Better living through (synthetic) chemistry” was an illusion generated by synthetic chemists, failing to appreciate that new synthetics can have many unanticipated side effects. Still today, monochemical superdrugs are failing. They say they have nothing new on track for the superbugs of the future. But there is still hope; the hope resides in our long-used herbs, those herbs the FDA has continuously and studiously tried to brainwash us into believing are useless. (Corporate crime I call it, rampant in America.)

Searching for the new “superdrug” (promising anti-MRSA herbs), I searched through the PubMed abstracts all the way back to 2010. Once again, as in many of my bacterial and viral compilations, Manuka honey seems very promising. I know no reason why Manuka should be better than our American honeys, especially if spiked with the more promising of the anti-MRSA herbs and phytochemicals listed below. Some synergies may make the combos “super,” i.e. superlative to the monochemical antibiotics, slowly or rapidly yielding to drug resistance, which should have been anticipated.

Many of the PubMed abstracts give a relative idea of the potency of anti-MRSA
herbal extracts and phytochemicals. I like in particular the MIC (minimum inhibitory concentration) usually but not always less than the MBC (minimum bactericidal concentration). Frequently they are compared with the MICs and MBCs of the many antibiotics, some lower, some higher. And I suppose (read: hope, but sometimes skeptically) most of these herbal and phytochemical studies are just as reliable as the PubMed pharmaceutical studies. Still I fear that some herbalists and phytochemists may be as aggressive and statistically manipulative at over-promoting their beliefs and products as Big Pharma scientists and reps. They may not even publish the negative points (or may completely leave negative studies unpublished). Too often, like too many Big Pharma scientists, they just publish the data that prove their point, and may sell their product. How I long for that utopian day when a benevolent FDA will support unbiased clinical comparisons of the natural herbal polychemical alternatives with the monochemical synthetics. My evolutionary homeostatic bias is that the herb will usually outperform the synthetic, when cost, efficacy and side effects are all considered.

Many authors compared their species with pharmaceuticals (including ampicillin, azithromycin, carbapenems, ceftazidime, chlorhexidine, ciprofloxacin, erythromycin, fluoroquinolones, gentamicin, levofloxacin, methicillin, norfloxacin, oxacillin, tetracycline, and vancomycin). Many authors also noted that the natural phytochemicals often potentiate the pharmaceuticals, often dramatically so. (A warning: my superficial compilation is often based only on the PubMed abstracts. In cases where there was a free publication, or the author sent PDFs, I dug deeper. In all cases where the authors did not cite the potency of their extracts or phytochemicals, I assume those extracts or phytochemicals were only modestly anti-MRSA.)

If we can believe the PubMed authors and the compiler (yours truly), the following are some natural phytochemicals which might individually be competitive or synergistically super- competitive with the failing pharmaceuticals with their reported MIC (in ug/mL).

But let me remind you as someone should have told BigPharma, using any one of these natural phytochemicals alone to fight a multi- drug resistant (MDR) ailment can rapidly
lead to resistance, as in quinine long ago, and now artemisinin. Using quinine alone instead of the mix of more than a dozen alkaloids cohabiting with quinine was a BIG mistake. We are better off using many anti-MRSA natural chemicals in synergy to avoid this problem. I cannot imagine Big Pharma was not aware that using just one chemical, natural or synthetic, leads to resistance. The more chemicals, natural or synthetic, the less the probability of resistance. But why even bother to synthesize unnatural chemicals unknown to your genes. Your genes know the naturals (at least those consumed by your ancestors), not tomorrow’s synthetics. Viva la natural synergies!

Furthermore, I suspect the whole herbs, like cannabis with its five anti-MRSA cannabinoids, or licorice, which contains dozens of antiseptic compounds, may synergistically be better anti-MRSA weapons than any one of the single compounds mentioned at left. And better yet, continued use of the mixtures will not likely lead to resistance like monochemical approaches will. On another hand, many species of Hypericum contain anti-MRSA activities and/ or phytochemicals, but no single species so far is reported to contain a huge number of anti-MRSA phytochemicals. Thirty-three of 34 chloroform Hypericum extracts showed anti-MRSA activity, 5 with MIC=64 ug/ml. This genus has great potential for anti-MDR activity (PubMed ID 12234572). Many Hypericum species also contain hyperforin, one of the more potent anti-MRSA phytochemicals. Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) seems also to be well endowed with a variety of anti-MRSA phytochemicals.

Turning back the pages of time, let us look back to the safer herbs, many of which have 5,000-10,000 biologically active compounds in them, dozens or even hundreds of which are natural antiseptics. Many of the same natural phytochemicals can synergistically potentiate the failing pharmaceuticals. Unlike synthetics, these phytochemicals have been known to your genes for as long as your ancestors (primates or even earlier ancestors before) consumed them.


Jim Duke “Better Living Through Phytochemistry” with Potentilla recta, Cinquefoil – The Green Farmacy Garden’s legal representative of Cannabis sativa as displayed in the Glaucoma plot

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3 Responses to Herbal Superdrugs for the Superbugs!

  1. Pingback: Herbal Superdrugs for the Superbugs! | The Green Farmacy Garden | The Quern

  2. Nickie Barnard says:

    Dear Jim – I’ve just found your site and barely skimmed it but am fascinated to find so much information about herbal potentials. I’m a little younger than you and was raised by an old fashioned Gran who refused to have me vaccinated, dosed coughs and colds with a honey and onion concoction and treated maladies with ‘brews’ from the garden. As a result I’ve always been chary of pharmaceuticals viewing them as a measure of last resort and am wondering why you, with your knowledge, were taking antibiotics for your ankles anyway. I spent a teenage year as a nursing auxiliary in a geriatric unit where I saw gangrenous ulcers cleaned similarly to yours with peroxide lavage and healed with dressings of gauze soaked in cod liver oil. Old fashioned Ward Sister!

    Now I’m wondering what you’ve done to help your spinal stenosis which I’m presuming is the result of arthritis. I’ve had this in both hips for a number of years and, though I am now about to succumb to replacement, have managed to avoid doctors, eliminate most pain and preserve a limited mobility with diet, supplements and close attention to the gut where, it is said, most illnesses begin. I read somewhere that toxin overload in the body erodes cartilage leading to arthritis and with impaired circulation the blood pools in the pelvic area putting pressure on nerves. Detoxing sounded reasonable and a better explanation than any doctor had given so I used Ayurvedic herbs, apple cider vinegar to alkalise and started coffee enemas. What a difference. As I got rid of pain and most of the stiffness I could exercise a little (hanging onto the chair back) and the aches in my legs disappeared. I used to be a dancer so this was huge.

    As I said, I’ve only just found your site and the bit about your ulcers is the only article I’ve really read so maybe I’m misjudging and you are actually taking as much care of yourself as you do your plants. You are bookmarked and I shall enjoy reading more. Meanwhile, it’s not the age but the mileage so I hope that your legs are now as good as I plan on mine soon being.
    Best wishes

  3. Pingback: Herbal ‘Super-drugs’ For Super-bugs! | Hemp Edification

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