While cannabidiol (also known as CBD oil) has gained attention in recent years for its ability to ease inflammation, help with restful sleep, and even lessen the symptoms of epilepsy, there’s also reason to believe that CBD may help patients lessen the severely painful symptoms associated with shingles.
5 Benefits of CBD Oil for Shingles
- Anti-inflammatory Properties
- Antiviral Effects
- Itching Relief
- Pain Relief
- Stress Reduction
CBD is one of hundreds of chemical compounds found within the cannabis sativa or hemp plant, and the scientific community is just beginning to understand its potential for therapeutic use. But, while medical evidence remains in early stages, there’s a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to using cannabis oil to make shingles patients more comfortable as they heal.
What are Shingles?
If you had chickenpox as a child, there’s a chance you may also develop shingles as an adult. Both conditions are caused by the varicella zoster virus. Once the initial chickenpox infection clears, the virus remains dormant within the body—usually within nerve cells—until activated by stress or other environmental factors. When this activation occurs, the person develops shingles, a medical condition most characterized by a painful rash that can occur anywhere on the body, though it often wraps around one side of the torso. The infection also may bring with it itchy blisters, fever, chills, headache, intense pain, an upset stomach, and an overall increased sensitivity to touch.
Shingles affects roughly one million Americans each year, and the medical community estimates that roughly one in three people who contracted chickenpox as a child will later develop shingles.
While medical evidence isn’t entirely clear about what may reactivate the varicella zoster virus after years of dormancy, we do know that the endocannabinoid system is involved. In fact, CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found on the shingles rash. Years of treatment records also show that conventional pain relief medication has proven largely ineffective against the symptoms of shingles—the varicella zoster virus causes damage to nerve endings necessary for most painkillers to work.
Thankfully, successfully activating the CB1 receptor may cause a significant reduction in neuroinflammation. While CBD cannot directly activate these receptors, it can modulate the receptor’s activity, which may help provide relief. In addition, CBD is well known for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation. In fact, a 2018 review of studies suggests that cannabis-based medications may help ease chronic nerve pain.
If you’re considering treating shingles with CBD oil, be sure to visit with your doctor or consult with a pharmacist. Though CBD has very few reported minor side effects, it’s always wise to make sure CBD products won’t have adverse interactions with any other medications you’re taking.
5 Benefits of CBD Oil for Shingles
Now that we’ve explained what shingles is, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits CBD oil may offer for shingles patients.
1. Anti-inflammatory Properties
The cannabinoids inherent in CBD oil are known to have potent anti-inflammatory properties, reducing the number of inflammatory chemicals in the body. These inflammatory chemicals are part of the body’s pain pathways, and reducing their presence within the body can help lower pain levels. Much of the shingles pain, itching, and overall discomfort is directly related to inflammation, so managing this inflammation remains a key element of effectively managing the symptoms of shingles.
In addition to using cannabis oil to fight the inflammation associated with shingles, conventional treatment may also include taking over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or receiving corticosteroid injections.
2. Antiviral Effects
Current treatment for shingles may include prescription of antiviral drugs, including acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. While these types of drugs may help shorten the duration of infection, none is a cure for shingles, nor will any of them treat its symptoms or make patients more comfortable.
Research is limited on CBD’s potential to treat viral medical conditions like shingles. However, one recent article in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research has suggested that CBD has potential to treat viral infections such as hepatitis C. However, there is not enough clinical evidence to confirm this hypothesis.
CBD also has recently been the subject of some animal testing against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. In fact, many medical researchers are calling for clinical trials to test whether CBD can prevent and/or treat COVID-19 in humans. More testing is necessary, though, to determine both the efficacy and the mechanism of action CBD may employ against viral infections.
3. Itching Relief
The itching that accompanies a case of shingles can be excruciating for some patients—and scratching that itchy rash may lead to open sores that are even more uncomfortable. In worst cases, scratching the shingles rash can lead to a skin infection. But there is some evidence that the topical application of CBD oil could provide relief.
In fact, CBD is often applied topically as an oil or cream to treat other skin conditions, like eczema, which also itching and skin irritation. When applied directly to the skin, cannabis oil interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the epidermis and may offer several benefits, including moisturizing the skin and reducing both itchiness and inflammation.
4. Pain Relief
In addition to the itching sensation and rash, many shingles patients can experience intense pain, which in many cases is nerve pain. In fact, in many cases, severe shingles pain is the first symptom patients notice before developing a shingles rash, and some shingles patients even experience this type of nerve pain long after the initial shingles rash has disappeared. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia. With a shingles infection, nerve fibers are often damaged, meaning they can't send messages from the skin to the brain as they normally would. Instead, messages become confused and exaggerated, which can cause excruciating nerve pain
Conventional pain-relief treatments for shingles include opiate painkillers, lidocaine numbing cream, or capsaicin topical patches. But a healthy body of research has shown that CBD oil can be effective in treating various types of nerve pain largely because of its effect on the endocannabinoid system. Although studies do not address the use of CBD oil to treat shingles specifically, it is within reason to expect that CBD may have a positive effect on managing shingles pain.
For example, one recent study found that CBD products were effective at reducing neuropathic pain, which comes from nerve damage, in patients treated with chemotherapy drugs. These drugs can negatively affect nerve cells, much like a case of shingles can, resulting in chronic nerve pain. Because CBD oil has been shown to reduce neuropathic pain related to this type of damage, it seems reasonable that using CBD oil to treat shingles-related pain also could be effective.
The manner in which the human brain perceives pain is heavily influenced by the endocannabinoid system. It directly influences our sensitivity to pain, especially when that pain is caused by inflammation. The cannabinoids in CBD oil may activate the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor, which then suppress the perception of pain.
5. Stress Reduction
What we know about the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus indicates that it’s strongly influenced by the body’s stress response, so decreasing your overall stress levels while treating a case of shingles is essential for effectively managing its symptoms and remaining as comfortable as possible.
The good news is that managing the symptoms of anxiety and stress is one of the key reasons for CBD’s popularity, and many people report great success with using CBD oil to manage stress. In fact, in some medical studies, CBD oil has been found to repress the body’s autonomic arousal. This is the nervous system response to stress that usually features a suddenly increased heart rate and/or rapid, shallow breathing.
The little research that exists seems to illustrate that cannabis may help alter serotonin levels, based on its interaction with the body’s CB1 receptor and CB2 receptor. While serotonin features at least 14 different receptors, CBD specifically binds to the 5-HT1A cannabinoid receptor, which plays a key role in many anxiety disorders. And many cannabinoid users report that it gives them an overall feeling of calm and relaxation. This may even help patients sleep better, which could aid in a faster and more comfortable recovery from shingles.
In addition to using CBD oil, patients can help manage their stress by engaging in activities like yoga, deep breathing, and meditation.
How to Use CBD Oil for Shingles
One of the easiest ways to use CBD oil to treat shingles is to simply massage the CBD salve or lotion into the affected or painful areas of the body. With this kind of topical application, you can make sure the oil goes exactly where you need it most. Make sure only to use CBD oil on intact skin; if your shingles rash includes broken skin or open blisters, avoid using CBD oil in these areas. Otherwise, you can reapply the CBD oil to your rash as necessary. Many shingles patients report feeling relief within five minutes, and the effects may last as long as six hours, but individual results will vary. You can reapply as often as needed.
If you don’t want to use CBD oil topically, you can also try putting a few drops under your tongue. Taking CBD oil this way allows it to bypass the digestive system and travel directly into the bloodstream. Many people report feeling positive benefits of taking CBD oil sublingually within 15 to 20 minutes, and the benefits may last four to six hours. You also can ingest CBD oil through edibles like CBD gummies.
As always, when using CBD oil for any condition, you should start with the lowest possible dose and gradually increase until you reach the therapeutic effect you’re looking for. The effectiveness of CBD for individuals depends on several different factors, including body chemistry, weight and levels of discomfort, so you may have to experiment a bit before you find the delivery method and CBD dosage that work best for you. Don’t be afraid to keep increasing the dosage to take full advantage of the therapeutic benefits, as we find that most people aren’t taking enough. For more information about finding the optimal dosage for you, read our How Much CBD Oil Should I Take? article or list to S1 E3 of our Podcast: The One Where We Talk About CBD and Dosing for Humans and Pets.
CBD is a Promising, Low Risk Shingles Treatment
While researchers are still studying the exact benefits of CBD oil for shingles, CBD’s general tolerability and lack of side effects makes it easy to introduce into your treatment plan.
As always, consult with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that CBD won’t potentially interact with any other medications you’re taking. And be sure to purchase your CBD oil or other cannabis products from a reputable producer that you know and trust.
If you have questions about how to choose an appropriate CBD product, you can always reach out to the team at Farmer & Chemist. Our knowledgeable staff of pharmacists can answer questions and help you find the CBD product that’s right for you.