What About Treating Shingles Naturally with Cannabis?

Jessica McKeil January 22, 2020 0 comments

Shingles brings a burning and painful rash caused by a previous exposure to chickenpox. Treating shingles naturally may be your best option.

Shingles is a painful skin condition, stemming from the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Following exposure to chickenpox, the virus becomes inactive, yet lingers in the body. Decades later, the virus may strike again, this time in the form of shingles. Since the renewed outbreak stems from a previous bout of chickenpox, adults are at a higher risk shingles. People over the age of sixty are especially prone to the complication as they comprise a large proportion of this population.

In terms of treatments, there are several pharmaceutical options, but patients often wonder if treating shingles naturally is an option. These days, many are looking for medicine with less side effects. This viewpoint has led many patients to seek medicinal cannabis as a treatment for a variety of ailments.

While there aren’t any clinical studies on cannabis for shingles, the plant has proven useful for neuropathic pain. There is also a suggestion the plant may have antiviral qualities. The following is an overview of these connections.

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Treating Shingles Naturally Along with Postherpetic Neuralgia

Shingles is a viral infection stemming from the varicella-zoster virus. A shingles outbreak can appear anywhere on the body, although usually, it appears as a single band of rash, wrapping around one side of the body.

The symptoms can become excruciating and include blisters, tingling, burning sensations, itchiness, and pain. Less common symptoms include fever, headaches, and fatigue.

To target the viral infection, physicians usually prescribe antivirals, but they may also assign additional medications to help the patient manage associated pain. Usually, these look like low-dose opioids, numbing agents, corticosteroids, and other pain killers. Few physicians will have recommendations on treating shingles naturally unless they are a certified naturopath.

A shingles outbreak may last for several weeks, but, for some, the pain continues once the blisters and rash have disappeared. This is likely a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia.

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Postherpetic neuralgia very painful, with patients describing it feeling like a pinched nerve, or a stabbing sensation. This condition comes from lingering nerve damage which may have occurred during the initial outbreak of shingles.

Relief from postherpetic neuralgia follows a similar line to the treatment options for shingles. Most plans focus on pharmaceuticals for the treatment of pain, and there are few supported options for treating shingles naturally.

treating shingles naturally could be what this person with visible shingles needs

Cannabis for Shingles – Several Promising Leads

With more patients familiar with medicinal cannabis, and comfortable with it as a natural option, it’s logical that some would wonder about cannabis for shingles (or postherpetic neuralgia).

There is no available research on the therapeutic value of cannabis for shingles, whether from in-vitro, in-vivo, or clinical trials. However, some studies have demonstrated the potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of viral infections. Also, there are also robust trials looking at the plant for the treatment of neuropathic pain. These resources suggest a need to explore cannabis for the treatment of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.

Cannabinoids and Viruses

In 2016, a team out of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, led by Dr. M-J Milloy, discovered patients recently infected with HIV had lower viral loads in their blood if they smoked cannabis.

Their study, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review (2016), suggests that cannabis has antiviral benefits. This publication has now launched into a full-fledged clinical study about the “possible therapeutic benefits of cannabis in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.”[1]Milloy, M. J., Marshall, B., Kerr, T., Richardson, L., Hogg, R., Guillemi, S., Montaner, J. S., & Wood, E. (2015). High-intensity cannabis use associated with lower plasma human immunodeficiency … Continue reading

On the surface, shingles and HIV/AIDS may not seem comparable, but underneath they are both viral infections. If cannabis can reduce the proliferation of HIV in patients, can it do so with other viral infections? Dr. M-J Milloy and his team think so. As they concluded in their 2016 study, “Our findings support the further investigation of the immunomodulatory or antiviral effects of cannabinoids.”

Cannabinoids and Neuropathic Pain

Time and time again, studies have demonstrated the pain-relieving qualities of cannabinoids, specifically for neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain (like the kind associated with postherpetic neuralgia), is caused by nerve damage. No matter the method of consumption (or application), cannabinoids have an extraordinary ability to reduce neuropathic pain.

A study published in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (2019), looked at topical CBD for the treatment of peripheral neuropathy. Among twenty nine patients, divided into a treatment and a placebo group, the authors reported “a statistically significant reduction in intense pain, sharp pain, cold and itchy sensations in the CBD group when compared to the placebo group.” Furthermore, “no adverse events were reported in this study.”[2]Xu DH, Cullen BD, Tang M, Fang Y. The Effectiveness of Topical Cannabidiol Oil in Symptomatic Relief of Peripheral Neuropathy of the Lower Extremities. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2020;21(5):390-402. … Continue reading

Again, this is only one example among many. The researchers behind this study published in Pain Physician (2017) concluded that “the current systematic review suggests that (cannabis based medicines) might be effective for chronic pain treatment, based on limited evidence, primarily for neuropathic pain (NP) patients.”[3]Aviram J, Samuelly-Leichtag G. Efficacy of Cannabis-Based Medicines for Pain Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Pain Physician. 2017;20(6):E755-E796.

Based on the pain-relieving and potentially antiviral qualities of cannabis, there is an argument for treating shingles naturally with cannabis-based medicines. However, more study on cannabis for shingles is required to draw any scientifically-backed conclusions.

treating shingles naturally could be what this person with visible shingles needs

Three Benefits of Treating Shingles Naturally with Cannabis

There are three benefits which suggest medical cannabis might make a useful conjunction therapy with other pharmaceuticals in the fight against the shingles virus.

  1. Reducing Neuropathic Pain: If the shingles virus develops into postherpetic neuralgia, patients will experience lingering, chronic, neuropathic pain. Both THC and CBD demonstrate promise for reducing the experience of pain associated with nerve damage.
  2. Reducing Skin Irritations and Inflammation: Topical creams, balms, and salves containing cannabinoids are showing benefits for reducing the appearance and inflammation of minor skin irritations. Early research has looked at cannabinoid creams for the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, and acne, suggesting it also might help reduce the issues of the blisters associated with shingles. Plus, cannabis topicals are easy to make at home.
  3. Possible Immunomodulatory Benefits: Although the research is still in the early stages, cannabis may help regulate the immune system and have other benefits when fighting off a viral infection.

A Natural Option That Needs More Research

Treating shingles naturally with cannabinoids is a relatively new idea, but one with enough scientific foundation to warrant more studies. At the moment, there is not enough research to confirm if cannabis can replace pharmaceutical options. However, cannabis may already hold value as a therapy for pain relief and skin irritations.


Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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