Marijuana and Meningitis
by Anonymous

In this account, the patient describes how marijuana apparently diminished swelling secondary to meningitis.  It is the first such case to come to our attention.  The possibility that cannabis will reduce cerebral swelling and pressure is consistent with the work on Dexanabinol (a THC analog) which is being pursued in Israel. 

This property of cannabis is so promising that it is being considered as a medicine for the treatment of Brain Syndrome and the swelling which occurs after a brain stroke.  It is also consistent with the possibility that marijuana diminishes the cerebral spinal pressure in patients suffering from pseudotumor cerebri (see the account of pseudotumor cerebri in the second edition of Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicine).

    The summer before my junior year at Penn State I suffered a viral meningitis attack. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The meninges act as a shock absorber between the skull and the brain. The problem with the brain and the swelling is that the skull ensures that there is no place for the expanded material to go. The pain is excruciating. The spider web of nerves that leave the brain to the eyes and ears are stressed -- and often the victim suffers life time damage (I have mild tinnitus -- a constant ringing in the ears and hypersensitivity to light as a result of my meningitis attack. I remember my eyes being pushed out of my head - it hurt!).

For several days before I went into the hospital I would smoke marijuana at night and the pain and the pressure on the eyes almost instantly went away. This is something a bottle of aspirin and whatever the doctor prescribed could not accomplish.

I spent about a week with the meningitis infection, not knowing that I was really sick, before waking up at 4am to vomit and going to the emergency room later that morning. My life was mostly normal until the day I went to the hospital -- the headache moved up on me slowly and I learned to move more slowly and adapt. I still hauled rowboats and motors around until the day I went into the hospital.

My physical condition was excellent and I had been a varsity swimmer. When I went into the hospital, because of fear, I said nothing about my "extra" activity of burning weed or it's helpful effect on my symptoms. The diagnosis revealed stiff neck, stiff legs – stiffness to all major muscle groups -- and severe pressure on the eyes. I was unable to put my chin on my chest or bring my knees close to my chest (I had the flexibility to do a split back then) because the muscles were tightening.

The first of three spinal taps confirmed meningitis. The white cell count in the cerebral spinal fluid was over 10,000.  It was visibly cloudy when it should have been clear.

The days in the hospital were by far the most excruciating. Since I was no longer treating myself, I was dependent upon what the doctor served up. I believe it was shots of morphine and it did nothing for the pain but make my butt sore as well.

Moving in the bed by rolling from my left side to my right took almost a minute because of the pain. Think of this:  Ever have a mild headache, forget that you have it, bend down to pick up something and the sharp stabbing sensation reminds you the headache is still there?  Multiply that pain by many times and you may have an appreciation for why it took a minute to roll from the left to right side in bed.

My eyes hurt. To look left, right, up or down required deforming the eyeballs due to the pressure from behind them. Imagine pressing on a sponge ball and rolling it around while maintaining the pressure on the ball -- attach nerves and a cornea and you get the idea. While in the hospital another symptom cropped up:  I got shingles. An annoying rash that initiated from one of the thoracic nerve bundles that itched and hurt. That is a common symptom of viral meningitis. The second spinal tap had a far better count, down to 600+. That may have been the day I left.

 I would not support a claim that medical marijuana would cure meningitis. With the viral forms, recovery takes time. With the bacterial forms, the antibiotics are required. What medical marijuana does offer to the meningitis patient is to instantly alleviate swelling and related pain and the symptoms that cause damage. This will buy the patient time for antibiotics to work, and the body to heal without the threat of death or long-term disability.

It is a mixed blessing that I was unwittingly treating myself. Had I been under medical supervision from early on, things probably would have been better. The use of marijuana hid the symptoms of the onset of the disease. It may have delayed the full force of the infection long enough for my system to begin to fight back thus shortening the recovery period.

 If there is some poor SOB suffering a meningitis attack and someone handed them a lit joint and said "You are now 30 seconds away from being pain free and this may save your life as well," it should be done immediately and in front of the doctors. They can use their lights and look at the retinas a few minutes after and see the difference, see that the stress on the optic nerve is reduced. That patient will tell them that they do feel much better. The patient will be able to roll their eyes again and move their head without the excruciating pain.  

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