Medical Marijuana and Lyme Disease

Dr. Nicholas Marsh Anesthesiologist Leesburg, VA

Dr. Nicholas Marsh is an anesthesiologist practicing in Sterling, VA. Dr. Marsh ensures the safety of patients who are about to undergo surgery. Anesthesiologists specialize in general anesthesia, which will (put the patient to sleep), sedation, which will calm the patient or make him or her unaware of the situation, and... more

Lyme disease is prevalent in Virginia, especially in Northern Virginia. But people of any age and in any part of the state can get the disease. If you, or someone you know, has Lyme disease you know just how devastating it can be.

Infections occur throughout the year but are more common during the late spring and summer and in people who work or play outdoors. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. This organism lives in wild rodents, deer, other mammals, and in certain ticks, most commonly the black-legged (deer) tick. It is transferred to people by the bite of an infected ticks.

There is now growing evidence suggesting that cannabis may be helpful for managing symptoms related to the disease. It is important to note that Lyme disease cannot be cured by using medical cannabis, and inappropriate or insufficient treatment may lead to more serious long-term consequences and side effects. You must take antibiotics to get rid of the bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease. But there is hope that cannabis can be helpful for relieving some of the debilitating symptoms.

While randomized controlled studies have yet to be published, anecdotal evidence suggests that Cannabis is a potentially beneficial option for patients dealing with severe symptoms or who have Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, a syndrome characterized by long-term muscle pain, nerve pain, headaches, and other symptoms. It is likely that a combination of cannabis’s effects contributes to the relief reported by patients.

The analgesic effect of cannabis appears to work well for chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain, a specific type of chronic nerve pain. Neuropathic pain is common in those suffering from Lyme disease, especially the long-term variant, and can be very challenging to manage otherwise.

The cannabinoids present in marijuana also target inflammation by modulating the immune system, slowing down the process that sometimes occurs when the body inadvertently attacks itself (autoimmunity). This is important when it comes to helping post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome because this syndrome appears to mimic auto-immune diseases in this way. Cannabis may also help moderate the arthritic inflammatory characteristics of the acute disease.

Medical marijuana may also help Lyme disease patients by being neuro-protective, helping the body protect and regenerate nerve cells. Neurologic symptoms are common, including severe recurring headaches and cognitive dysfunction.

Lastly, Cannabis is well known for its mood-modulating benefits. In fact, that is one of the leading reasons patients pursue medical marijuana therapy. The anxiety and depression that accompany a severely debilitating disease such as Lyme’s, are often positively influenced by Cannabis. The quality-of-life indices evaluated in another severe chronic disease like cancer are often reported to improve with the help of Cannabis.

These benefits are theoretical but anecdotal experience seems to offer hope. However, it is important to note that there is currently no existing published data that has directly looked at the efficacy of cannabis use for Lyme or post-Lyme syndrome symptoms. More research is needed to confirm or refute these findings.

Understanding the Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease symptoms often include:

  • Fever
  • A rash occurs in 70%-80% of patients in the first 30 days from the tick bite
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Severe headaches
  • “Migrating” arthritis symptoms and joint pain
  • Inflammation of the brain or spinal cord
  • Neuropathy

The diagnosis of Lyme disease involves confirmation by laboratory testing. Treatment is focused primarily on eradicating bacterial infection with powerful antibiotics. Often this therapeutic course is prolonged, however, since the bacteria can be so resistant.

Cannabis for Lyme Disease Symptoms

Again, cannabis does not treat the disease, but it may help relieve symptoms. The following symptoms of Lyme disease may be effectively managed, especially if you are experiencing long-term symptoms.

Inflammation & Pain

  • Joint pain and inflammation, muscle pain, and headaches are all examples of the kinds of painful symptoms that may benefit from cannabis therapy.
  • Daytime inflammation and pain symptoms are often helped by products that are prominent with CBD, an anti-inflammatory cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD is not psychoactive so the benefits may be achieved without the cognitive effects.
  • Cannabis that contains equal parts of CBD and THC may offer additional pain-relieving effects, often better than just CBD alone.
  • Different cannabis strains contain different terpenes, the molecules in the plants responsible for flavors and smells. Some patients find that strains containing specific terpenes are more effective for their pain than others. The combination of terpenes, THC, and CBD found in cannabis is thought to work better than just one compound alone; this concept is known as the “entourage effect”. The full extent of these combined biological effects and benefits has yet to be delineated but keeping track of which products have helped you will enable you to replicate your success in the future. Virginian dispensaries track your product purchases and can help in this way.
  • When localized arthritic pain and inflammation are prominent there may be an indication to try a topical cannabis product such as a THC crème. The local application may provide relief without causing cognitive interference.


  • THC-dominant products often help patients fall asleep and stay asleep. The sleep is often more restful and rejuvenating than that produced by other sleep aids.
  • It is important to note that controlling pain and anxiety can also improve sleep. Cannabis is well known to benefit these. Likewise, better sleep can improve our ability to manage anxiety and pain during the day.

What is Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome?

Typically, Lyme disease infections are cured with a two- to four-week course of oral antibiotics, but it may take significantly longer and may involve more aggressive treatment like long-term intravenous antibiotic therapy.

Following successful treatment, some patients may continue to experience symptoms for over six months. Many of these patients experience pain, fatigue, and difficulty thinking. Scientists believe that these patients’ initial infections trigger auto-immune responses and that’s why they keep having symptoms. Other experts believe that these patients have long-term effects because their Lyme infections were not initially detected quickly enough. Many patients report that medical cannabis provides relief from these long-term consequences of Lyme disease.


Cannabis therapy offers hope for many patients afflicted with the severe symptoms of Lyme's or the devastating long-term symptoms of the disease: pain, arthritis, severe fatigue, and cognitive impairment. The anti-inflammatory, pain-modulating, mood-modulating, and neuroprotective qualities of medical marijuana work together to offer significant relief in many cases.

So, talk to your doctor before starting to treat Lyme disease symptoms with Medical Marijuana because curing the disease requires early suspicion and detection, and aggressive antibiotic treatment. The disease can have serious long-term consequences on various organ systems including the nervous system, heart, skin, joints, and eyes if inappropriately treated or under-treated. Sometimes, a co-infection with another tick-borne disease can also develop that could require additional treatment. Regular monitoring and early and prompt treatment by a specialized health professional, like an infectious disease physician, is best.