When Haley Inselberg came across research that showed CBD has antimicrobial effects against MRSA (an antibacterial-resistant “superbug”), the gears inside her head started turning. She wondered: What other similar applications could there be for CBD?
As someone who’s always been interested in discovering new plant-based antimicrobials, and as a graduate research student at the University of Southern Florida’s cell biology, microbiology and molecular biology department, Inselberg is well-suited to answer that question. Along with Dr. Maria Cecilia do Nascimento Nunes, Inselberg set about arranging an experiment to do exactly that.
“I wanted to try to actively show the antimicrobial potential of CBD oil using the materials that I had on hand,” Inselberg says. And, because Dr. Nunes’ food biochemistry lab already does a lot of testing on Florida-grown strawberries, there was at least one fruit readily available. Strawberries were perfect, she says, because their decay is easily detected visually.
So, Inselberg put the berries to the test.
The experiment’s methods were relatively simple: Inselberg used a pipette to administer a highly concentrated solution of CBD isolate and MCT oil (50mg/mL) to the strawberries, rubbing it in by hand. One group of treated and non-treated fruit was then kept at 1-degree Celsius, and another at 10-degrees Celsius, both for eight days. Inselberg evaluated their visual appearance before storage and regularly during it.
“I was hoping that the CBD oil would have a strong enough effect on the strawberries that we would be able to actively see a difference in the visual quality of the fruit and would be able to show that it was capable of reducing microbial growth,” she says.
A goal which Inselberg seems to have achieved. Not only did the CBD-treated strawberries remain looking fresher than the non-treated strawberries, but they had notably less bacteria as well.
“Results from this study showed that CBD oil was effective at maintaining the visual appearance of strawberries, above the minimum threshold of a visual rating score of 3, compared to the fruit that was not treated.” The study’s abstract reports. “It was also found that CBD oil was effective at reducing the microbial load on treated strawberries compared to fruit that was not treated.”
The research suggests that CBD is, in fact, an effective antimicrobial for certain produce — opening wide the doors of possibility for further research. Could this apply to other produce? Is there a viable means of employing this on a larger scale?
Maybe, says Inselberg. But scaling up to an industrial level would be immensely cost prohibitive today. Commercial 50mg/mL CBD oil, like Inselberg used in this experiment, runs anywhere from $50-$130 per 30 mL bottle. Applying that to the 1.23 trillion tons of strawberries produced in the U.S. annually would be an expensive ordeal. If there’s a way to use CBD on strawberries or other produce to extend their shelf life, Inselberg says, it would likely be at home on an individual or family scale.
However, increasing the shelf life of fruit was never the aim of Inselberg’s research in the first place. The takeaway she’s excited about has more to do with how CBD oil affects microbial growth and how we can apply that to a much broader degree.
“There are so many problems arising with antimicrobial resistance, I think it is really important for us to come up with other viable safe alternatives to this issue,” Inselberg says. “Obviously, my study needs a lot more research before we can start using CBD as an antibiotic to treat microorganisms, but it is a very early stepping stone to show that there is a potential for it.”