Have you heard of Athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, thrush, or yeast infections? If you have, then you must know these are all fungal infections, caused by certain groups of harmful fungi or overgrowth of relatively non-harmful groups of fungi.
Penicillin, truffles, Quorn, marmite, cheese, and edible mushrooms, which are also strains of fungi, have done more “good than harm” to mankind. However, some fungi may cause severe rashes, itchiness, swelling, burning sensations, and depreciate our overall quality of life.
One such strain of fungi is candida that causes a type of yeast (fungal species) infection, called Candidiasis, causing red patchy rashes, itching, pruritic rashes, hair follicle infections that look like pimples, etc.
Unlike ringworms (also a group of fungi), candida causes yeast infections that aren’t restricted to the skin, nails, and hair, but can spread to several internal body parts, including organs, such as the heart and brain, and soft tissues in the eyes and bones.
Candidiasis that affect our externals, like mouth, groin, or vagina, is known as superficial candidiasis, whereas those that infect our innards are called systemic or invasive candidiasis, which is often accompanied by fever and chills. Candidemia, a type of invasive candidiasis, commonly seen among hospitalized patients, occurs when candida infects the bloodstream.
Like any infection, it’s usually our weakened immune system that is to blame for candida invasion. Other reasons may include a high intake of antibiotics, excessive alcohol intake, use of tampons and oral contraceptives, diabetes, and increased stress levels.
But these may sometimes be unavoidable circumstances.
So, it’s no wonder that over 700,000 cases of invasive candidiasis occur across the world each year.
Conventional Treatments vs. Cannabidiol for Candidemia
Candidemia is usually treated with antifungal medications, called azoles (miconazole, terconazole, fluconazole). Usually administered topically (gels, creams, ointments, sprays), or orally (capsules and liquids), injections and suppositories may are also used in more severe cases.
In most cases, a short course of 5 – 10 days of azoles alleviates the symptoms. At times, though, even a 6-month-long course with varying doses may not be enough. In such azole-resistant strains of candida, doctors often prescribe boric acid capsules as an alternative therapy. These are used as suppositories (inserted into the vagina or rectum), as they’re unfit for oral consumption.
Unfortunately, not only do these anti-fungal treatments offer little relief to patients, these medications may do more harm to the human body. For instance, fluconazole is known for adverse effects, like headaches, aggravation in rashes, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. In some severe cases, it may also cause very high fever, trouble breathing, jaundice, hepatitis, seizures, abnormalities in blood cells, and abnormal heart rhythm that may even cause death.
To add to that, advancements in antifungal therapies have not failed to check the rise of fungal infections and the growing number of medication-resistant fungi strains. This is why it’s imperative to find better and safer alternative therapies for the prevention and treatment of fungal infections.
A lot of people seem to have found that in cannabidiol (CBD).
While research on the effects of this cannabinoid and its efficacy in addressing fungal infections is still in its nascent stage, its natural antifungal properties have found some support from certain groups of scientists as well as the general public.
CBD, ECS, and Fungal Infection
According to some scientific studies and reviews, the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which works in tandem with the nervous system, maintains homeostasis in the human body. This includes the prevention of infectious diseases and the protection of the body from microbial attacks, like fungi.
This system, along with its (eCB) receptors (primarily CB1 and CB2), interacts with certain chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, like those found in cannabis plants. Such compounds are also available in the human body (like anandamide). This system (in interaction with the nervous system) controls and regulates the normal functioning of most parts of our body, including boosting our immune system and warding off foreign microbes.
A closer look at the way Cannabidiol works on external microorganisms showed researchers that the chemical structure of CBD has a pair of free atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. These oxygen atoms attract other oxygen atoms from other compounds and bind with them through the process of oxidation. When fungal cells are oxidized with CBD, they can’t multiply or grow, thus checking the spread of infection.
The aggregated document points out:
- CBD offers “analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic and chemopreventive” properties.
- CBD does not interact with the usual ECS receptors. Instead, it interacts with atypical receptors to protect the body from invasion, promote cell death and regeneration, besides cleansing the body of dead and damaged cells.
Many users would have you believe that CBD is as effective as most antifungal medications, like cyclopiroxolamine and sulconazole.
The Science Behind CBD as an Anti-Fungal Agent
While many scientists claim that CBD has strong antifungal properties, many others deny that saying that there is very little evidence to prove ECS activation during fungal infections. In fact, they maintain that cannabinoids, like CBD, tend to turn off the body’s immunity, exposing the host to further invasion and possible death.
Irrespective of who found what, here are a few studies that establish that medical cannabis, and possibly CBD, in combination with other substances and drugs, can play an important role in future antifungal treatment.
- Through a 2019 research paper, published in the Molecules, researchers reviewed some previous clinical trials and studies on ECS’ relation to skin health, its diseases, cell growth and regeneration. Their findings revealed that by regulating the skin’s cannabinoid signaling system with the help of external cannabinoids can help manage skin diseases effectively.
- According to a 2016 review, published in the Frontiers in Plant Science, CBD and THC have extremely potent antifungal properties. While the two cannabinoids act differently in the body, each following a slightly different pathway, they both act as protectors of the body and deterrents of fungal growth.
- Another 2016 study, published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, found more evidence of CBD’s antifungal properties. It was further administered alongside an antifungal medication, ketoconazole, which is an inhibitor of CYP3A4 (an enzyme CBD inhibits as well). Their interaction resulted in an increase in CBD’s level in the bloodstream of the test subjects, indicating an enhancement of the potency of the cannabinoid. While this could mean detrimental to the user’s health, it could also mean that much smaller doses of CBD would be enough if used with ketoconazole. However, more studies are required to establish the safety of such drug interactions and CBD’s efficacy as an antifungal agent.
- In a 2017 study published in Ceska a Slovenska Farmacie, a group of researchers suggested that the inclusion of natural substances, like cannabis oil, to antifungal drugs can increase the latter’s potency by 9.55-14.25%. This study did not, however, talk specifically about CBD. Besides, other natural substances were also used in the test, including tea tree oil and other essential oils.
Apart from CBD and THC, some newly found cannabinoids and esters have, incidentally, shown more promise in warding off and cleansing a host of candida fungi.
- Another 2012 study, published in Pharmacognosy Review, showed that a newly found chemical compound in cannabis sativa plants, an ester, identified as 4-terpenyl cannabinolate has antifungal properties, specifically against Candida albicans. Although this study does not throw any light on CBD’s efficacy as an antifungal agent, it shows that cannabis can still hold some value in this respect.
- Another 2009 study, published in the Journal of Natural Products, discussed nine newly found cannabinoids, out of which 8-hydroxycannabinol were found to possess antifungal properties.
Concluding Analysis: CBD for Candida
It’s amply clear that the endocannabinoid system plays an integral part in regulating and modulating antifungal activity in the body.
Cannabinoids hold much promise as a combination drug, owing to the absence of safe, side-effect-free, and more effective mode of antifungal treatment, especially in view of the ever-evolving and ever-growing spread of fungal infection in the world.
That being said, studies that can rationalize the use of CBD as an antifungal agent are, however, very few and mostly inconclusive.
Meanwhile, other newly identified cannabinoids and other chemical compounds isolated from cannabis sativa plants have shown more promise as an antifungal agent.
While it goes without saying that one must consult a doctor before self-medicating oneself with CBD for candida infection, we can only hope that future examination and study of the cannabis sativa plant will yield more promising results of its potential use in mainstream medicine.