How to Use Cannabis to Reduce Shingles Pain
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Shingles can produce very painful, burning rashes and viral nerve pain, lasting from a few weeks to several years after the infection recedes. Thankfully, medical marijuana may be helpful in relieving inflammation and chronic pain associated with shingles. CBD may also have antiviral and antibacterial properties.
This article explores what you need to know about shingles and its symptoms as well as how medical marijuana can potentially help address associated pain and skin damage.
Personalized Cannabis Guidance
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is a painful condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is most common in people older than 50, though anyone who’s had chickenpox could develop it. If you have had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body for years and only reappears for one in three individuals in their lifetime.
Early symptoms of shingles include mild to severe pain and constant itching, usually on one side of the face or body. Rashes or blisters appear between one to 14 days later and can appear anywhere. While rashes can heal after a few weeks, the pain of shingles can last for weeks, months or even years longer.
Other symptoms of shingles include:
- Blisters filled with fluid
- Sensitivity to light or touch
Shingles doesn’t pass through the air like other contagious diseases; instead, the virus spreads via direct contact with the rash. If the virus passes on to someone who has never had chickenpox – usually a child – the person would develop chickenpox instead of shingles.
Traditional Treatments for Shingles
There is no cure for shingles, though early treatment with medication can help fight the virus and prevent lingering pain. A shingles vaccine may also prevent the condition or lessen its effects, and doctors recommend vaccines for those 60 or older.
How Marijuana Helps with Shingles Pain Relief
Part of the pain of shingles comes from the virus’ attack on nerve cells. Traditional painkillers such as morphine typically are ineffective against shingles since the virus damages receptors that would ordinarily enable these medicines to provide relief. Furthermore, even though opioids are sometimes prescribed for neuropathic pain (nerve pain), data on its efficacy is limited and has adverse side-effects that could outweigh any benefits.
However, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) functions in several parts of the body, including skin cells, nerve fibers, the immune system and pain receptors. As such, medical cannabis – which interacts with the ECS receptors – can help modulate the experience of pain associated with shingles and effectively provide relief where other opioid-based medicines can’t.
Research evidence also shows that medical cannabis offers relief from the extreme itching or inflammation associated with shingles and other conditions such as eczema and acne. Cannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors and transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in the skin, both involved with itching sensations. Alongside this research, other studies have shown the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis topicals on the skin.
Additional research points to cannabis’ ability to modulate the immune system and affect its interaction with viruses or bacteria. While we have some evidence of cannabis as an antimicrobial agent, the research is still lacking for cannabinoids’ antiviral capacity.
Cannabis researchers have also examined CBD’s capacity to fight viruses. While a 2020 review looked at studies focusing on hepatitis C and other viruses, there is little research investigating CBD’s ability to combat herpes simplex or the varicella-zoster virus. CBD’s ability to modulate immune response and inflammation may make it a useful tool in tackling the nerve pain associated with shingles.
Other components in cannabis, such as flavonoids and terpenes, have their own medicinal properties, which include moderate antiviral activity against certain viruses, including herpes simplex viruses.
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How to Use Cannabis for Shingles Pain
Medical cannabis could potentially help relieve pain caused by shingles, and address inflammation in nerve cells and the experience of burning or itching.
Many positive benefits of cannabis on shingles can be found from topicals, which act directly on cannabinoid receptors in the skin to address localized pain. Balms, creams or salves with higher amounts of CBD may soothe pain and relieve some itching associated with shingles rashes.
Other patients report using edibles to manage shingles pain, as this consumption method offers more potent experiences over a longer period than smoking or vaping. However, absorption through the lungs provides faster-acting relief, which may benefit those who need to address severe shingles pain immediately.
Best Strains for Shingles Pain
Strains (cultivars or chemotypes) that offer effective relief from shingles-related pain include:
- Blue Dream
- Super Skunk
- Maui Waui
- Super Lemon Haze
- Tangerine Kush
Please note that the above is just based on anecdotal information – there is not necessarily a particular variety of cannabis suitable for a specific condition. What works for one may not work for another, due to individual differences in people’s endocannabinoid system or “endocannabinoid tone.”
The Bottom Line
Many individuals with shingles use medical cannabis to relieve pain and itching associated with their condition. While shingles has no cure and can be a painful skin condition, medical marijuana can significantly improve both pain and discomfort from the disease.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does CBD help with shingles?
Research supports CBD’s ability to soothe inflammation in various health conditions and act on CB1 and CB2 receptors to reduce sensitivity to pain. CBD can reportedly help ease nerve pain associated with shingles, despite a lack of research explicitly examining its effectiveness.
Does cannabis cream help shingles?
Cannabis topicals and creams are a beneficial, localized method of obtaining marijuana-based relief without intoxication. Through topical application, cannabis cream can effectively relieve inflammation and pain associated with shingles rashes.