Meningitis and Medical Cannabis Treatment

Sarah Walker

by Sarah Walker

April 9, 2020 02:47 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 11 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho

Meningitis

  1. Are Cannabinoids a Good Treatment Option for Meningitis?
  2. What Cannabis Preparations Are Suitable for Meningitis?
  3. What are the Signs, Symptoms, and Types of Meningitis?
    1. Bacterial Meningitis
    2. Viral Meningitis
    3. Fungal Meningitis
    4. Parasitic Meningitis
    5. Amebic Meningitis
    6. Non-Infectious Meningitis
  4. Meningitis: Causes and Complications
  5. Talking to Your Doctor About Meningitis Diagnosis and Treatments
  6. Complementary Treatments Worth Discussing With Your Doctor

Medical cannabis possesses natural anti-inflammatory and pain-killing qualities that could help to mediate certain symptoms of meningitis, such as swelling and physical discomfort. Although doctors and scientists cannot recommend medical marijuana to treat meningitis, patients may consider integrating the plant into their existing treatment regimen as a complementary therapy.

According to the National Meningitis Association, between 600 and 1,000 people contract meningococcal disease in the U.S. annually (1). Vaccinations are widely available to prevent meningitis from occurring, many of which work by shielding the body from bacterial and viral pathogens. However, coming into contact with someone who has contracted meningitis and has poor hygiene can cause you to become sick.

Are Cannabinoids a Good Treatment Option for Meningitis?

Patients should always seek immediate medical attention for this condition, usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Unfortunately, due to a lack of research in this area, it is not currently safe to recommend medical cannabis for treating active meningitis infections.

However, researchers believe that certain cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN), will be potential therapeutic options in the future when it comes to treating bacterial, viral, and fungal infections (1). 

The THC and terpenes in medical marijuana have been shown to possess antiviral properties. They are helpful in petri dish experiments of gonorrhea, salmonella, and other bacteria that cause biofilm to grow (1) (2).   

Please check out our pages on sepsis and tuberculosis for more information about how endocannabinoids may help fight bacterial infections. 

Plant-derived CBD, which is a natural anti-inflammatory, could also be useful in reducing meningitis-associated inflammation. 2012 research supports the use of CBD to control inflammation in other bacterial infections such as sepsis (3). 

A 2011 study found that CBD can help reduce brain inflammation in mice with induced encephalitis (4). Encephalitis is a general term used for brain tissue infections. It is similar to meningitis, but meningitis can affect both the brain and spinal cord, attacking their outer layer called the meninges. 

The mice in this study had induced encephalitis (4). Researchers found that CBD was able to reduce the dilation of blood vessels in the brain (vasodilation)and decrease inflammation, thereby protecting the blood-brain barrier. This research partially supports the use of medical cannabis for blood-related brain complications such as those seen in patients with cerebrovascular disease.

Medical cannabis has also been shown to have antioxidant effects (5). Antioxidants remove excess oxidation of the brain, which leads to further brain tissue damage. This makes it a neuroprotective option for patients with epilepsy, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and traumatic brain injuries.

While this research shows the potential for cannabis to help treat meningitis, studies aren’t quite there yet to advise patients on how to use it for treatment. However, there are collaborative research projects out there with the hope of one day using synthetic CBD and other cannabinoids to develop new and improved medications to treat antibiotic-resistant infections (6). 

One such collaboration going on between The University of Queensland and Botanix Pharmaceuticals could prompt drug manufacturers to develop a new class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria in 60 years (6).  

What Cannabis Preparations Are Suitable for Meningitis?

One of the main appeals associated with medical cannabis use to treat meningitis is the diversity in terms of product options. Various cannabis preparations are available:

  • Edibles 
  • Pills, capsules, and tablets 
  • Cannabis flower
  • Transdermal patches 
  • Vapes 
  • Tinctures 

What are the Signs, Symptoms, and Types of Meningitis? 

Meningitis is characterized by an inflammatory response to the meninges. These membranes envelop the brain and spinal cord, providing the essential body parts with critical protection. 

When someone is diagnosed, the meninges cannot do their job, and serious health consequences could follow. The medical condition may occur after encountering infectious agents like bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses.

The symptoms of meningitis may be confusion, fever, headache, light sensitivity, nausea, neck stiffness, and vomiting. In serious cases, it can cause coma, seizures, permanent disability, and in the worst-case scenario, death (7). 

The outcome relies on your diagnosed type of meningitis, your immune system status, and prompt treatment.

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacteria is the most common culprit that causes meningitis. This type can be life-threatening and demands instant medical attention (8). It is possible to die from bacterial meningitis in just a few hours. Be on the lookout for fever, sudden confusion, severe headache, and stiff neck pain (9). 

Bacterial meningitis demands prompt medical attention and requires treatment in the hospital with potent antibiotics, which are tailored based on the identified offending bacteria. People who have been in close contact with patients should also be treated with antibiotics as bacterial meningitis is contagious through coughing, sneezing, and moisture droplets (9). 

Up to 25% of patients who survive bacterial meningitis may experience the following complications (9)

  • Seizures
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Problems with movement, coordination, and balance
  • Speech problems
  • Learning disabilities (8)
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss (8)

Several types of bacteria cause bacterial meningitis, including (8): 

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Group B Streptococcus strains
  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria)
  • Escherichia coli (E. Coli)
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis, causes TB meningitis and tuberculosis

Viral Meningitis

This type of meningitis can be caused in patients having a virus instead of bacteria. Fortunately, patients with viral meningitis typically get better on their own (10). 

It is still important for patients who suspect they have viral meningitis to seek immediate medical attention if they experience fever, confusion, severe headache, or stiff neck. Any type of meningitis can cause severe damage to the brain and spinal cord and can lead to a severe infection. 

Children under the age of 5 and patients with weakened immunities, people taking chemotherapy drugs, or recent transplant recipients are at an increased risk for viral meningitis (10). These patients are more susceptible to the following viruses that may cause meningitis (10): 

  • Non-polio enteroviruses
  • Mumps
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Herpes simplex viruses
  • Varicella zoster, the virus responsible for chickenpox and shingles
  • Measles 
  • Influenza
  • West Nile virus
  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus  

Fungal Meningitis

Another life-threatening type is fungal meningitis, which is caused by a fungal infection that has spread from somewhere else in the body to the brain or spinal cord (11). Symptoms include fever, headache, neck stiffness, confusion, light sensitivity, and nausea or vomiting. 

Anyone can get fungal meningitis, but patients who have a compromised immune system from conditions such as HIV or cancer are at an increased risk (11). Premature babies with low birth weights are susceptible to Candida infections in the bloodstream, which can easily spread into the brain. 

Candida is a fungus that is known for causing vaginal yeast infections and thrush. Other types of fungi that can cause meningitis include (11): 

  • Cryptococcus
  • Histoplasma
  • Blastomyces
  • Coccidiosis

Parasitic Meningitis

Sometimes parasites can cause eosinophilic meningitis or eosinophilic meningoencephalitis. This is known as EM (12). EM is caused by accidentally ingesting or eating parasitic eggs that are present in uncooked or infected food. Bacteria that can cause EM include (12):

  • Angiostrongylus cantonensis (neurologic angiostrongyliasis)
  • Baylisascaris procyonis (baylisascariasis)
  • Gnathostoma spinigerum (neurognathostomiasis) 

Amebic Meningitis

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare brain infection caused by Naegleria fowleri (13). N. fowleri isn’t a bacteria, however; it is a single-cell organism called an ameba. 

Patients with PAM will initially experience symptoms similar to bacterial meningitis which include (13): 

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea & vomiting

After the infection progresses, a patient may also experience (13): 

  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Lack of awareness of people and surroundings
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma 

If you suspect someone you know may have PAM or any other type of meningitis, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention in the emergency room. Meningitis of all forms progresses quickly. PAM is considered a fatal infection and prompt treatment with antibiotics and antifungals is necessary to increase the odds of survival (13).  

Patients with PAM are usually infected when the ameba enters the body by swimming up the nose from an infected body of water. It then travels to the brain and destroys healthy brain tissue. PAM is not an infection that can spread to others (13). 

Naegleria fowleri can be found in the following places (13): 

  • Warm, freshwater places such as lakes and rivers
  • Hot springs
  • Warm water discharge from industrial or power plants
  • Untreated warm water drinking sources
  • Poorly maintained swimming pools
  • Tap water
  • Water heaters
  • Soil

It is important to note that patients who perform sinus rinses with self-mixed saline are at an increased risk for N. fowleri. This is why doctors recommend using distilled water over tap water when performing sinus rinses. 

Non-Infectious Meningitis 

When meningitis develops from an autoimmune disorder, cancer, or medication reaction, doctors will diagnose non-infectious meningitis. It is also possible to be at greater risk for developing this disease from certain infections such as HIV, syphilis, and tuberculosis.

The underlying cause of meningitis should be assessed to effectively treat the infection. Doctors can accomplish this with proper diagnostic testing. 

Meningitis: Causes and Complications

Anyone can get meningitis, but research shows that people who have immune system disorders, long-term disease, or a missing/damaged spleen are more likely to fall ill. Additionally, the following age groups are more susceptible to the medical condition:

  • Children below the age of five
  • Teenagers and young adults aged 16-25
  • Adults 55+

Because certain germs that cause meningitis spread easily, outbreaks occur more frequently in places where people live in close proximity to each other.

Examples include military barracks, travelers in hostels, volunteers working on campsites, and college students in dorms (14).  

Traveling to destinations where meningitis rates are high, such as the peri-Sahelian countries of sub-Saharan Africa, is also risky (15).  

Most cases of meningitis arise following a bacterial or viral infection that surfaces somewhere else in the body, such as the ears, sinuses, or throat. The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that 1 in 5 survivors of bacterial meningitis may experience lingering side effects and disabilities such as (16):

  • Hearing loss
  • Weak limbs
  • Seizures
  • Vision problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Difficulties with communication, language, memory, and speech
  • Sepsis
  • Brain damage
  • Limb amputations

Talking to Your Doctor About Meningitis Diagnosis and Treatments

If you or someone you know suspects that they are experiencing the signs of bacterial meningitis, don’t delay in seeking healthcare. Cerebrospinal fluid can be drawn in the ER using a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to detect meningitis, leukemia, and various other illnesses (17). 

A doctor will administer antibiotics and fluids instantly upon diagnosis. To aid in targeting the correct type of illness-causing bacteria, the doctor may prescribe a general or broad-spectrum antimicrobial before prescribing the full course. They may also prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Viral meningitis usually clears up without treatment, but it’s important to pay attention to any doctor’s orders. In most cases of viral meningitis, healthcare providers will advise patients to rest in bed, stay hydrated, and relieve aches and pains using over-the-counter medicines. They will prescribe antiviral medication only if herpes, influenza, or another virus is the cause of the illness. Expect hospitalization until the medical team cultures or identifies the pathogen, determines treatment sensitivities, and assesses the ability to self-care.

Complementary Treatments Worth Discussing with Your Doctor 

Certain types of oral or topical wellness supplements may help to bolster immune system performance. These may include daily multivitamins containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, and D, as well as B-complex vitamins, coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, probiotic supplements, and trace minerals such as calcium, magnesium, calcium, selenium, and zinc.

Herbs like cat claw, reishi mushroom, olive leaf, and aged garlic may prove useful when combined with homeopathic remedies. Some patients also seek relief from inflammation with omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil. It’s important to note that omega-3 fatty acids can increase the effect of blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin).

Remember that although medical marijuana and other complementary medicines can benefit you or a loved one with meningitis, you must still follow your doctor’s prescribed medications and treatments.

Note: Veriheal does not intend to give this as professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided on this page. Always consult a physician before making any decisions on the treatment of a medical condition.

1. Statistics and Disease Facts. (n.d.). National Meningitis Association. https://nmaus.org/nma-disease-prevention-information/statistics-and-disease-facts/

2. Laureano SchofsMónica D. SparoSergio F. Sánchez Bruni. (2021). The antimicrobial effect behind Cannabis sativa. Pharmacology Research and Perspectives. https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/prp2.761

3. Christian Lehmann, Mandana Kianian, Juan Zhou, Inga Küster, Rieke Kuschnereit, Sara Whynot, Orlando Hung, Romesh Shukla, Brent Johnston, Vladimir Cerny, Dragan Pavlovic, Alexander Spassov, and Melanie EM Kelly. (2012). Cannabinoid receptor 2 activation reduces intestinal leukocyte recruitment and systemic inflammatory mediator release in acute experimental sepsis. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3681373/

4. Lourdes Ruiz-Valdepeñas, José A Martínez-Orgado, Cristina Benito, África Millán, Rosa M Tolón, Julián Romero. (2011). Cannabidiol reduces lipopolysaccharide-induced vascular changes and inflammation in the mouse brain: an intravital microscopy study. Journal of Neuroinflammation. https://jneuroinflammation.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-2094-8-5

5. Sinemyiz Atalay, Iwona Jarocka-Karpowicz, Elzbieta Skrzydlewska. (2019). Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7023045/

6. Emily Henderson. (2021). Cannabidiol kills bacteria responsible for gonorrhea, meningitis, and legionnaires disease. News Medical Life Sciences. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210120/Cannabidiol-kills-bacteria-responsible-for-gonorrhea-meningitis-and-legionnaires-disease.aspx

7. Mayo Clinic. (2023). Meningitis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350508

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Bacterial Meningitis. https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html

9. Runde TJ, Anjum F, Hafner JW. Bacterial Meningitis. (2023). National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470351/

10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Viral Meningitis. https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html

11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Fungal Meningitis. https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/fungal.html

12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Parasitic Meningitis. https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/parasitic.html

13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Amebic Meningitis. https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/amebic.html

14. Kenadeed Hersi, Francisco J. Gonzalez, Noah P. Kondamudi. (2023). Meningitis. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459360/

15. GBD 2016 Meningitis Collaboraters. (2018). Global, regional, and national burden of meningitis, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(18)30387-9/fulltext#seccestitle10

16. Meningitis. (2023). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/meningitis

17. Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture). (2020). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/12544-lumbar-puncture-spinal-tap

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