According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, there were over 25,000 cases of confirmed Lyme disease diagnoses in 2015; the CDC estimates that over 329,000 people are diagnosed with the disease annually, about 25% of these cases are children ages 5–9. Lyme disease is most prevalent in the northeast region of the country, but prevalence has been noted in the mid-Atlantic states, the north-central states, and on the Pacific Coast.
Children are much more susceptible to contracting the disease as they are smaller in stature, lower to the ground, and typically play with their environments. Basically — kids pick up sticks, play in leaves, roll on the ground, frolic in the dirt. In fact, Lyme disease is most prevalent in boys ages 5–19.
Lyme disease is contracted by tick bite — ticks infected with the Lyme bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi transmit spirochete (or spiral-shaped) bacteria into a host. Spirochetes have the ability to form cysts in inhospitable environments, allowing them to hide in a host without being detected by the immune system. These cysts can remain dormant for days to years, which makes Lyme disease and its associated infections some of the most challenging diseases to treat adequately.
Even more frightening than the ability of this bacterium to hide, Lyme disease progresses through several stages. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, stage one occurs 3 to 30 days after infected tick bite and can include the characteristic bull’s eye rash known as erythema migrans. However, sometimes a red, flat mark is noted, or there are no signs of bite at all, and this stage progresses into flu-like symptoms including headache, aches and pain in the joints, stiff neck, fever, chills, swollen glands, general malaise.
If the disease is not diagnosed and treated (a common occurrence since Lyme disease presents like the flu), the bacteria can spread to the bloodstream and cause significant symptoms in the central nervous system. Stage two occurs anywhere from a few weeks to many months after initial bite. The symptoms may include more flu-like features, but may also progress into meningitis, bell’s palsy, and carditis.
Stage three progresses into arthritis and continues to attack the nervous system. Arthritis may appear in one joint, disappear for a time, and then reappear in another joint. The joints swell considerably and are tender to the touch. Over time, the disease continues to attack the nervous system and impacts the body at a systemic level.
Because children (especially very young ones) have limited abilities to explain how they feel, a child infected with Lyme disease may present as a cranky, irritable kid with behavioral issues. Failing grades, inability to focus, sleeping issues are all common symptoms for children impacted by Lyme disease. It’s important for parents and people close to the child to pay attention to their instincts as Lyme disease is sometimes challenging to diagnose, and even more challenging to treat. Very often, if a parent thinks something is wrong, they’re likely correct.
Diagnoses hinges on accessing the right test through the right physician. Families are encouraged to work with Lyme literate physicians, naturopaths, and other health professionals for the best treatment outcome. The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society may be a good place to start a search for a Lyme literate practitioner.
The treatment for early/stage one Lyme disease is a round of antibiotics. Depending on whether or not the disease has progressed from early Lyme to chronic Lyme (and which treatment protocol the doctor follows), several rounds of oral antibiotics and/or IV antibiotics may be prescribed in an effort to eradicate the spirochete bacterium. Unfortunately, many Lyme disease patients and families of children impacted by Lyme disease find that these standard treatments are inadequate at best. Over time, untreated or under-treated Lyme disease destroys the nervous system causing wide-spread neurological disorders.
Cannabis is a neuroprotectant and antioxidant, so it makes sense that many Lyme infected patients have experienced relief and even remissions from their symptoms. In my practice as a nurse, I’ve noticed that many of my patients seek relief from their Lyme symptoms with cannabis as it is an incredible pain reliever, it can help afflicted people cope with their pain and disability, it can promote sleep and rest. I’ve had a few Lyme disease patients state that cannabis saved their lives. I’ve also had caregiver parents seek Cannabidiol, CBD — one of the non-psychoactive cannabinoids — for their child patient who is struggling with Lyme. One parent reported that the CBD helped their Lyme afflicted child (a young teen boy) to reduce anxiety and to promote sleep, thereby reducing the child’s behavioral issues. Other caregiving parents reported that CBD greatly reduced inflammation, swelling, and pain associated with their children’s Lyme infections. This anecdotal evidence is promising, but it is still relegated to the anecdotal evidence category.
The unknowns are extensive and more research is needed across the board in order to bring cannabinoid therapeutics to the forefront of chronic disease management. For example, more information is needed to understand the antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal properties of cannabis. More information is needed in regards to treating pediatric cases of Lyme disease and other chronic conditions with cannabis. And perhaps the most important coin that needs to drop in to its proverbial slot — we need more health professionals to stand up for patients who may greatly benefit from this powerful medicinal plant. Fellow health professionals, I implore you to be willing to learn, adapt practice standards, and bring this medicine to the forefront of disease management. Your patient’s lives may very well be improved and saved by it. The time is now.