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Lyme disease: sufferers plead for access to affordable, legal pain relief

Australians suffering from Lyme disease say decriminalising cannabis in Australia would offer safer relief for their symptoms than the common alternatives.

Lyme Australia: Awareness & Recognition co-founder Karen Smith said easier access to cannabis could help to change the community’s perception of the drug as an alternative and encourage patients to be more open to safer pain relief.

She said she acquired the disease in Queensland 2003, and had experienced years of pain and was often unable to leave the house.

“Lyme is about constant inflammation, and your sleep goes awry,” she said. “Medicinal cannabis has helped people with migraines, sleep and for seizures.”

But many Lyme patents struggled to pay for it as a treatment, with some medical cannabis products costing hundreds of dollars, she said.

Information from The Victorian Department of Health shows the typical range in the cost is “$50 to $1000 per patient per week”, depending on the medical condition, the product and the dose.

Lyme disease: sufferers plead for access to affordable, legal pain relief

Lyme Australia: Awareness & Recognition co-founder Karen Smith.

“Medicinal cannabis products are not currently subsidised by the Commonwealth Government through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, meaning that the full cost must be paid by the patient,” the site says.

Ms Smith said the issues with legality and cost led some sufferers to seek cheap pain relief through alcohol consumption.

“Some of them are so strict (on legalities) they’d rather try alcohol … if their only option is through a medical script most would not even try it, they just don’t have that money,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Smith recalled a patient who became addicted to alcohol. “He was drinking a bottle of rum just to get a decent night’s sleep.”

Lyme disease, which is passed on by ticks, poses particular problems with diagnosis and treatment, as health authorities do not recognise that it can be locally acquired.

Drug and Alcohol Foundation spokesperson Laura Bajurny said the process of accessing medicinal marijuana was really challenging.

The issues were finding an “educated and willing” doctor and the cost.

There are a lot of products out there none of them are on the registry of Australian therapeutic goods … none of them are subsidised so they are very expensive.

Compared to other treatments cannabis had fewer side effects, she said. “It’s virtually impossible to overdose.”

Surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found an increase from 37 per cent to 41 per cent from 2018-19 in Australians supporting the legalisation of cannabis.

Medical cannabis can help promote sleep and decrease anxiety as well as reducing the severity of seizures and inflammatory symptoms.

WHAT IS LYME DISEASE?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness and inflammatory disease resulting from an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The initial stages of Lyme disease may present as a flu like illness, with symptoms of headaches, fevers, muscle soreness, and fatigue. It produces a rash that often has the shape of a bulls-eye. Once the bacteria start to spread throughout the body, symptoms broaden to include: swollen glands and joints, muscle and bone pain, cramps, constant headaches; sound and light sensitivity; vision problems, depression; anxiety, panic attacks and seizures; Bell’s palsy. Health authorities don’t recognise it as a disease that can be acquired in Australia, however a number of people with Lyme disease say they had not left the country prior to their infection.

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