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Cannabis For Lyme Disease: What You Need to Know

I have been asked many times by my sweetheart over the years to consider cannabis for my pain [1].  Each time, I vehemently stated that I did not need it; in truth, I was one of the many that had a very negative connotation with “pot.” I was one of the few that had never ever tried or even considered trying it when I was younger, and I hadn’t succumbed to the peer pressure of trying it.

Since my diagnosis of Lyme disease in 2002, I also contracted two other tick-borne infections: Babesia [2] and Bartonella [3].  My biggest obstacle has been Babesia, which also comes with much chronic pain. I found that many of the medications that I’d used throughout the years either never helped to relieve the pain from this infection, or I was allergic to them.

I had tried everything, from NSAIDS to muscle relaxants and many other conventional medications.  At the same time, I witnessed many others with Lyme who used a daily regimen of morphine, tramadol, or oxycodone and who ended up becoming hooked on these medications. For some, the addiction was so great that they were no longer able to function well in everyday life and so were forever lost in the addiction.  I did not want any part of that, so I silently suffered while I smiled, day in and day out.

It took a very bad Herxheimer reaction [4] and the horrid side effects from Mefloquine a/k/a Lariam for me to reconsider trying cannabis.  I was dealing with major nausea, weakness, insomnia, horrific night terrors/nightmares, hearing things, hallucinations, and wretched headaches, all of which were side effects of the medicine.  The hopeless and dark thoughts were also creeping in again.  I had used this medication before, and it was a big decision to decide to use it again.

It wasn’t until my third round of dosing with Mefloquine that I reconsidered giving cannabis a try.  The two times that I had taken Mefloquine in the past had left me very ill and weak and I had to have help from family and friends with daily duties. I was also unable to work for a full month. This prompted me to look further into cannabis for Lyme warriors like myself.  After all, I had been asked many times before if I had tried it or knew anything about the effects of cannabis upon Lyme disease.

Cannabis and Lyme Disease

I was delightfully surprised and overwhelmed with what I found. I also discovered that cannabis was useful for healing other medical conditions.  Never mind that I didn’t understand what the acronyms and terms such as CBD, THC, THCA, and strains like indica and sativa meant.  Everything that I discovered can’t be described in this article, but I will do my best to simplify it as much as possible.

Here a few things I discovered, which should be noted by everyone who is considering cannabis — whether it be the oil, tincture, edible cannabis products, topical treatments, or when smoking or vaporizing it:

1. All cannabis oils are not created equal.  In fact, many of the ones that I have heard people using only have 0.1% CBD! Oh my!
2. Cannabis is not a cure-all.  As with many therapies for Lyme disease, there is no one single cure for everyone.  We are not all exactly the same.
3. Cannabis and Hemp are not the same. (See table below.)

HempCannabis
• A version of the cannabis plant that has  almost no THC.
• It is usually known as industrial hemp grown specifically to be used for products.
• Its uses are as follows: paper, rope, clothing, and oils
• Average THC  0-0.1% THC or less than 1%
• Very low CBD
 • Usually the flowering parts of the plant.
• Grown far apart to promote flowering
• Average THC 10% range 7-20%
• Higher levels of CBD

4. There’s a difference between CBD and THC. Many Lyme warriors do not want the “high” that comes with THC but just want some relief, which comes from the CBD.

5. There are different cannabis strains. Not all strains will work for everyone. Also, since Lyme disease symptoms [5] vary from hour to hour or day to day, you may have to use a different strain, depending on your symptoms.

6. Different strains do different things. Strains of cannabis, whether it’s indica, sativa or hybrids, are helpful for different conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, etc.  As mentioned each strain helps each individual differently.

Hybrids consist of varying combinations of indica and sativa.  The hybrids usually are stronger based as a sativa or indica. Ruderalis is a wild strain of cannabis that is incredibly short and has fewer leaves that are fewer in number and lower in THCs. Strains have been found to possess a chemical profile similar to Hemp. Sometimes it is used for crossbreeding with indica and sativa to produce ”auto flowering” hybrid to produce flowers or buds on age rather than the light cycles like indicas or sativas.

IndicaSativa
BodyMind or Cerebral
Sedative EffectEnergetic Effect
Higher CBD levelHigher THC level
• Usually causes sleepiness
• Relieves anxiety and stress
• Relieves pain
• Relaxes muscle spasms
• Stimulates appetite
• Reduces intra-ocular pressure
• Acts as an anti-convulsing agent
• Reduces inflammation
• Relieves headaches and migraines
• Usually stimulates appetite
• Enhances creativity and focus
• Relieves headaches and migraines
• Reduces nausea
• Supports Immune system

 

7.  Each person tolerates cannabis differently.  Some people may require more while others will require less to get relief.  I suggest that you begin slowly to see how you react to that particular strain.

8. We all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS).  All mammals have their neural receptors specifically designed to be activated by cannabis.

As I stated earlier, cannabis is not a cure for Lyme disease. For some, it has improved their quality of life and for others, it has been a godsend. Yes, there are some success stories; Shelley White, author of Cannabis for Lyme Disease and Related Conditions [6]is one of these.  Her “Lyme disease was so debilitating that she had endured at least 10 seizures daily for a year and a half. She began smoking marijuana from a pipe and then switched to inhaling it through a vaporizer. Just by doing that, her seizures stopped. Then she decided to go to the next level by using cannabis oil.”

Someone once explained to me that cannabis is, in a nutshell, “an anti-inflammatory that helps stop pain receptors in the brain from firing. It is all natural, non-addictive and is much easier on the body (than medications).  You can also get a product that has very low THC (the ingredient that gets you high) and which is instead high in CBD’s (the ingredient that helps eliminate the pain).”

As always, my word of caution is to work with your doctor and use your resources to weigh the risks and the benefits before you try anything.  I know I will. You have to do what is best for you!

This article was first published on ProHealth.com on April 2, 2016 and was updated on November 3, 2020.


Lydia Niederwerfer is a Lyme disease survivor, a freelance blogger, founder of Lyme-Aware.org, [7] and is passionate about spreading awareness of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.  She is a devoted wife, loving sister, and inspires many of her friends and fellow Lyme Warriors. She also shares the trials and triumphs she has experienced in her journey with Lyme disease on her blog at Lyme-Aware.org. Lydia has a B.A. in Business Administration, majoring in finance and works within her area school district.

References:

  1. 2015 Warning Letters and Test Results. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  2. Johnson JR, et al. (2010 Feb). Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety and tolerability of THC: CBD extract in patients with intractable cancer-related pain. Journal of Symptom Management, 39: 167-179. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.06.008.
  3. Cannabis Strain and Infused Product Explorer. Leafly.com. (2016, March 1). Retrieved from https://www.leafly.com/explore [8]
  4. Latest Strain Reviews Medical Jane. (2016, March 1). Retrieved from http://www.medicaljane.com/category/strains/ [9]
  5.  A few of our favorite strains: 25 ranked reviews from our critics. The Cannabis Staff.  2014, May 27). Retrieved from http://libguides.dixie.edu/c.php?g=57887&p=371721 [10]
  6. Pacher, Pal, Batkal, Sandor and Kunos, George. (2008 Feb 13). The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy. Pharmacol Rev. 2006 Sep; 58(3): 389–462. doi:  10.1124/pr.58.3.2.
  7. Fassa, Paul. (2014 February 5). Cannabis kicks Lyme disease to the curb. Natural News. Retrieved March 1, 2016, http://www.naturalnews.com/043834_cannabis_Lyme_disease_medical_marijuana.html [11]
  8. Advancing Legal Medical Marijuana Therapeutics and Research. Americans for Safe Access. (2016, March 1). Retrieved from http://www.safeaccessnow.org/medical_cannabis_research_what_does_the_evidence_say [12]
  9. 60 Peer-Reviewed Studies on Medical Marijuana, Medical Studies Involving Cannabis and Cannabis Extracts (1990 – 2014). MedicalMarijuana.procon.org (2016, March 1). Retrieved from http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000884 [13]
  10. 23 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC. MedicalMarijuana.procon.org (2016, March 1). Retrieved from http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881 [14]