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Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that affects an estimated 300,000 people in the United States every year. Studies have shown that cannabis possesses antibacterial properties and that its cannabinoids may help those diagnosed with Lyme’s disease better manage symptoms.
Overview of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by deer ticks, which are tiny arachnids typically found in wooded and grassy areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. In the U.S., Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii bacteria cause Lyme disease.
Lyme disease causes an array of physical symptoms, including a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrains. A small, red bump at the site of the tick bite appears first, and then resolves relatively quickly before the rash expands slowly over three to 30 days. Typically, the disease also causes fever, chills, body aches, headache, and fatigue. Nausea and vomiting can also occur.
Lyme disease is traditionally treated with a few weeks of antibiotics. If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can eventually cause severe chronic joint pain and inflammation, and potentially even neurological problems like meningitis, temporary paralysis of one side of the face, limb numbness, and impaired muscle movement.
Lyme disease can affect people of all ages and demographics. Those who live or spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas, where ticks live are at a higher disease of acquiring the disease. Using insect repellent, protecting the skin with long sleeves and pants, and removing ticks immediately can help prevent Lyme disease. Lyme disease transmission is unlikely if a tick is attached for less than 36 hours. The longer that an infected tick remains attached to the skin, the greater the chance that the disease is transmitted.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Lyme Disease
Research has established that several of the cannabinoids contained in cannabis have antibacterial properties, suggesting they may be helpful in resisting the bacteria associated with Lyme disease5. While research examining cannabis’ effects on the specific bacteria that causes Lyme disease is lacking, cannabinoids have shown efficacy against other types of bacteria5.
Other studies have shown that non-cannabinoid constituents found in cannabis, including terpenoids, possess antibacterial properties against methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus and malaria6.
Evidence also indicates that cannabis can be helpful in relieving the symptoms associated with the later stages of Lyme disease. The major cannabinoids found in cannabis have shown to have pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and anti-nausea properties. Cannabis has long been known to limit or prevent nausea and vomiting from a variety of causes2.
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Lyme Disease
No states with comprehensive medical marijuana legislation have approved cannabis specifically for those diagnosed with Lyme disease. Several other states will consider allowing Lyme Disease patients access to medical marijuana, provided it’s recommended by a physician. These states include California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.
In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Additionally, nearly all states with medical marijuana laws have approved cannabis for the treatment of pain, a symptom commonly associated with Lyme disease. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia have approved cannabis for the treatment of “chronic pain.” The states of Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio and Vermont allow medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia have approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”
For patients that suffer from Lyme disease-related nausea, medical marijuana can be approved in 19 states, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Lyme Disease
- About Lyme Disease. (2017). LymeDisease.org. Retrieved from https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/lyme-disease/about-lyme/.
- Limebeer, C.L., and Parker, L.A. (1999, December 16). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol interferes with the establishment and the expression of conditioned rejection reactions produced by cyclophosphamide: a rat model of nausea. Neuroreport, 10(19), 3769-72. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/neuroreport/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=1999&issue=12160&article=00009&type=abstract.
- Lyme Disease. (2016, August 19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/.
- Lyme disease. (2016, April 3). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/definition/con-20019701.
- Radwan, M.M., ElSohly, M.A., Slade, D., Ahmed, S.A., Khan, I.A., and Ross, S.A. (2009, May 22). Biologically active cannabinoids from high-potency Cannabis sativa. Journal of Natural Products, 72(5), 906-11. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4886613/.
- Radwan, M.M., ElSohly, M.A., Slade, D., Ahmed, S.A., Wilson, L., El-Alfy, A.T., Khan, I.A., and Ross, S.A. (2008). Non-cannabinoid constituents from a high potency Cannabis sativa variety. Phytochemistry, 69(14), 2627–2633. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4888767/.
- Wilsey, B., Marcotte, T., Deutsch, R., Gouaux, B., Sakai, S., and Donaghe, H. (2013, February). Low-dose vaporized cannabis significantly improves neuropathic pain. The Journal of Pain, 14(2), 136-48. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3566631/.