Cannabis is often touted as a potential breakthrough or treatment for Lyme disease, but the research is still too limited to make firm conclusions about its efficacy.
While there is preliminary evidence suggesting a connection between Lyme disease and the endocannabinoid system, we don’t have any research specifically investigating medical marijuana use for Lyme disease.
Still, medical marijuana has been shown to help with many of the symptoms associated with chronic Lyme disease, such as pain, inflammation, anxiety, and depression.
How Cannabis Works With Lyme Disease
The endocannabinoid system, present all over the human body and which is activated both by naturally occurring cannabinoids and those produced by medical marijuana, is responsible for maintaining internal homeostasis. It is made up of three parts; endocannabinoids (natural chemicals produced by our body), cannabinoid receptors such as CB1 and CB2 (which are activated by endocannabinoids), and enzymes (which metabolize and clear cannabinoids from our system).
This system modulates many of our important bodily functions, such as pain, mood, energy, sleep, inflammation, and immune response. Usually this works seamlessly, with our endocannabinoids activating the receptors to keep things in homeostasis. But when this system is out of balance, it can lead to disruptions and imbalances.
When it comes to treating Lyme disease, we have limited evidence that the disease may cause changes in the endocannabinoid system. In a study on the metabolic profile of Lyme disease, researchers found that those with Lyme disease had elevated levels of two molecules that interact with the endocannabinoid system. One of those molecules, palmitoyl ethanolamide (PEA), which has anti-inflammatory effects, doesn’t interact directly with CB1 or CB2, but it does enhance anandamide activity — one of the major endocannabinoids.
We also know that the endocannabinoid system has a huge influence on some of the symptoms associated with Lyme disease — from regulating pain, suppressing inflammatory responses, and the regulation of depression and anxiety.
Given these factors, it’s possible that medical marijuana use could aid in treating the symptoms of Lyme disease.
Medical Studies on Cannabis and Lyme Disease
While there is preliminary evidence that the endocannabinoid system is related to the expression of Lyme disease, this doesn’t necessarily mean that cannabis can help treat the condition. No research has been conducted on Lyme disease patients to evaluate whether medical marijuana might help treat it.
Still, those who argue that medical marijuana might help with Lyme disease point to several well-known aspects of the plant, such as its antibacterial properties and ability to reduce pain, inflammation, anxiety, and depression, as evidence that it may help.
All five major cannabinoids, THC, CBD, CBG, CBC and CBN have been shown to be potent against a variety of resistant strains of MRSA, a difficult-to-treat bacterial infection. While no tests have examined whether any of these cannabinoids might work against the bacterial infection in Lyme disease, it is something that future research should look into.
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are also potent anti-inflammatory agents. While medical marijuana hasn’t been evaluated for relief of the inflammation in Lyme disease, it has been studied in other inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and colitis. In all of these conditions, cannabinoids were able to reduce inflammation, leading to an improvement in the disease’s symptoms (and sometimes its progression).
Cannabis is also a potent pain killer — particularly for patients with chronic pain. A 2017 meta-analysis and systematic review on cannabis literature reviewed research on medical marijuana for multiple types of chronic pain, including neuropathy (which can occur in Lyme disease). The authors reported that there is substantial evidence that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for all types of chronic pain.
Cannabis can also help with anxiety. Studies show that cannabis intake can actually cause blunted stress reactions for those undergoing stressful stimuli.
Medical marijuana has also helped some with depression. In one review of the literature, researchers found nine studies on using cannabis for depression and seven of these studies showed medical marijuana use led to improvements in depression symptoms.
So, while the evidence to support cannabis’ use as a treatment for Lyme disease is extremely scarce, some research does point to cannabis’ ability to treat some of the symptoms that come up in Lyme diseases, such as pain, inflammation, anxiety, and depression.
Still, since this evidence comes from research on other conditions, more research is needed to see whether these benefits from cannabis will impact those with Lyme disease in the same way they have impacted those with other conditions. Nonetheless, there is a good reason for scientists investigate further and see whether medical marijuana can help.
Potential side effects of cannabis use
Despite the positive potential for cannabis treating the symptoms of Lyme disease, medical marijuana comes with a wide array of potential side effects that can impact treatment.
We don’t have any direct studies on Lyme disease, but side-effects for medical marijuana are generally mild and can include symptoms like light-headedness, mild difficulties in concentration and memory, tachycardia, dry mouth, nausea, and fatigue.
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