Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the spirochete Borrelia Burgdorferi. The spirochete is similar to a bacterium in many ways and is transmitted to humans via the deer tick as a vector. Native deer populations are prominent and rising in most areas of the US, and suburban sprawl is increasing contact with wildlife. These deer, and perhaps other animals or rodents, can carry the ticks. They are a species of the black-legged ticks Ixodes. It is common for most of these ticks Ixodes to carry the disease, then a tick bite can transmit the disease to a human. This transmission of the disease involves several factors, first and foremost being that the tick itself carries the spirochete. If you a bitten by an infected tick, and it is attached for enough time (approximately 24-36 hrs.), then it may transmit the disease to you. Outdoorsmen may be more susceptible to exposure to the Lyme ticks from deer, but you can pick up a tick just going to your mailbox or walking in the park. Pets are susceptible to this disease as well.
Many individuals may see the tick on their skin when it is attached. The bite can itch a bit in the beginning, or the tick may be seen or felt on your body. The deer ticks are small (the size of a pencil point) but can be a bit larger if engorged, so they can be difficult to detect. Once located, a tick should be completely removed as soon as possible. If it pulls off quickly then it may be more recent than one that is embedded, and less likely to transmit the disease.
Some individuals, however, may not notice the tick or the bite when it occurs, and the tick may subsequently fall off and go unnoticed. Many individuals that come down with Lyme in the initial stages will have a fever or flu-like symptoms, but not everyone, and it can be mistaken for a normal case of the flu. The characteristic “bulls-eye” rash may also occur days or weeks later. This rash is a hallmark diagnostic feature of the disease when it occurs, but not everyone gets the rash. It does not usually itch and is usually not painful. However, some individuals may become infected and do not get the rash or it goes unnoticed. Then weeks, months, or years can pass before the disease is detected and at that point, the treatment becomes more difficult and complex. The symptoms can be joint pain, mental fogginess, and extreme fatigue, insomnia, anxiety or depression, headaches, and feeling of being ill or sick. The diagnosis can be made with a blood test and also based on a person’s symptoms and past history of illness. Lyme disease diagnosed at this later stage has most likely become a chronic illness
Most treatments for this disease involve the use of the antibiotic doxycycline or equivalent, using various dosages, methods of administration, and duration of therapy. In some cases, the disease can become chronic and intractable, and resistant to most treatments. Long and extensive therapy and antibiotics may fail to adequately eliminate the disease entirely. For this reason, it is imperative to detect at the earliest possible time. When the disease goes undiagnosed in the initial stages then the long-term chronic illness that results can be devastating and life-altering. It is with the long term chronic disease in which cannabis may play a role in ameliorating and reducing some of the negative symptoms of Lyme disease.
Although some cannabinoids have been shown to be anti-bacterial (i.e. CBC and CBG is more effective than vancomycin against MRSA bacteria in some in vitro studies), the current perceived benefits of cannabis in this disease are to lessen, reduce, or eliminate some of the adverse symptoms of the disease. Some terpenes have also been shown to be anti-microbial. The overall improvement of Quality of Life (QOL) is the goal for using cannabis in Lyme patients. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss any action of cannabinoids directly that kill the spirochetes causing the disease. This avenue of thought may require further investigation as some components in the plant may be useful and therapeutic in a direct assault on the spirochete.
The medicinal use of cannabis in Lyme disease focuses on allowing the patient to achieve a better level of health after diagnoses. It can be used either before, during or after antibiotic therapy. Many patients with Lyme report feeling better while using cannabis, but a certain percentage will get uneasy from the THC, and require counseling concerning cannabinoids to achieve the correct results. Some patients may not benefit from cannabis even with proper counseling. A balancing dose of CBD may be needed in these cases to eliminate the “high” feeling, while still allowing the ingestion of THC. Various ingestion techniques and dosages can be tested along with different cannabinoid profiles to best treat each individual patient depending upon their exact symptoms. A total cannabinoid profile (TCP) works best using CBC, CBG, CBD, THC, and CBN.
The correct TCP requirement for Lyme disease may differ from person to person, but there are similarities and generalities that can be seen among patients from anecdotal and clinical reports. Some features that seem to play an important role relate back to the five guiding principles of the endocannabinoid system EAT-SLEEP-RELAX-PROTECT-FORGET.
Some Lyme patients may have poor appetites or nausea, and cannabis generally stimulates appetite to help combat weight loss from the disease that sometimes may occur, and help support caloric intake. A large percentage of Lyme sufferers also deal with insomnia and lack of proper rest. This in turn leads to fatigue and mental confusion during the day, so cannabis can act as a sleeping aid, it usually works quite well and little residual hangover is felt the following morning. Particularly useful is Cannabinol (CBN) a breakdown product of THC, and this is incorporated in several popular tinctures designed to aid in sleep, and also found in some aged cannabis.
Many Lyme patients will also be suffering from a degree of anxiety, and also possibly depression caused by the disease, and difficulty dealing with an unknown prognosis and outcome. Just as in the general population, anxiety reduction and treating depression can be successful using medical cannabis. It can allow a patient to relax and reduce feelings of anxiety, and likewise, other strains can also be helpful in depression often seen in Lyme patients. The CBD component also plays a role in preventing adverse oxidation or inflammation caused by the disease and provides a sedative relaxing effect. As well, CBD may play a role in the preservation of neuronal cells and tissues and organs normally adversely impacted by Lyme disease, and perhaps offer a protective effect against the damage caused by Lyme. The ability to forget may also be a psychological tool that might allow a Lyme sufferer to temporarily “forget” about the disease and the symptoms that it causes, and attempt a more normal lifestyle.
Care must be taken in the selection of proper cannabinoids and terpenes to address the needs of each individual patient who uses cannabis that have this disease. Treatment employing antibiotic therapy can generally be used concurrently along with cannabis with no adverse effects. To ensure normal gut stability while on the antibiotics, a probiotic may help. Medical cannabis may also be useful here as well to offset and negative gastrointestinal upset caused by the antibiotics used to treat Lyme.
In summary, cannabis can be an aid for patients suffering from Lyme disease to help ameliorate the adverse symptoms caused by the disease and to increase their sense of wellbeing. One day it is possible that a cannabinoid or other component of the cannabis plant, perhaps in high doses or combined with others, may be used effectively directly against the spirochete that causes Lyme. As in the general population, new users with Lyme who want to use cannabis as part of their treatment require patience and adequate guidance. This is to avoid any psychoactive adverse effects caused by the THC, which have occurred frequently in many patient studies researching this topic. Mitigation of the perceived negative side effects of THC can be accomplished by a relatively large concurrent dose of CBD, and this still permits the therapeutic effects of the THC to operate without the “high” effect being too overwhelming. Cannabis can be a viable option to improve the Quality of Life for those who suffer from the disease, but it will not benefit everyone. Further research and direct clinical human studies are required and undoubtedly forthcoming to better understand the use of cannabis in a disease such as this and other similar infectious diseases.