Approximately one million Americans develop shingles every year. Moreover, the CDC suggests that one in three people will contract the disease at some point. It is a virus that causes a painful rash and can lead to various long-term complications.
Treatment options are limited, and some people are considering natural remedies like CBD oil for shingles. But is it a practical solution, or will it do more harm than good?
Here’s our complete guide to CBD and shingles, the potential benefits and risks, and how to choose a suitable product.
Shingles: What Is It?
Shingles is also known as herpes zoster. It is a common viral infection caused by Varicella zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
When a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in their system and can flare up later in life. The risk of developing shingles increases with age. A shingles vaccination is available for people over the age of 50.
The most common symptom is the classic shingles rash that affects one side of the body. However, various other short and long-term issues can occur due to the infection.
Reviewing the Symptoms of Shingles
The first symptoms of shingles include sensations of pain, tingling, or itching, usually affecting one side of the body. Painful blisters will develop in the same area between one day and two weeks later.
Shingles generally appears in a single strip around the ribs or on the face. However, it could affect the entire body in people with compromised immune function.
After 7–10 days, the blisters typically scab over, and they should heal fully within 2–4 weeks. Other possible symptoms include:
- Stomach upsets
After these early-stage shingles symptoms subside, some people develop long-term nerve damage known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This condition can last months or years and occurs in 10–18% of cases. It causes severe pain, sensitivity, and itching.
Other serious complications include:
- Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
- Temporary or permanent vision loss
- Temporary or permanent balance problems or hearing loss
What Causes Shingles?
As we already mentioned, shingles is caused by the Varicella zoster virus. Many people already have this virus in their system due to having chickenpox earlier in their life. It can sometimes reactivate at a later date, causing symptoms to reoccur.
The causes of shingles transmission include someone who has never had chickenpox coming into contact with fluid from an infected person’s blisters. Although this will cause chickenpox rather than shingles, that person will be at risk of developing shingles later on.
As long as affected individuals keep their rash well covered, there is a low risk of passing on the virus. It is also impossible to infect others before the rash develops or once the blisters scab over.
Even so, people with shingles should avoid contact with the following groups of people:
- Those with compromised immune systems
- Pregnant women
- Premature or small-for-dates babies
The best treatment for shingles is an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. This shingles virus treatment aims to shorten the duration of symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. It is most effective when taken within three days of the rash appearing.
Some people recommend alternative shingles treatments such as acupuncture or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). However, the evidence to support these therapies is limited, and they could increase the risk of transmission if not performed carefully.
Aside from antiviral medication for shingles, several other options may help. They include medicines to relieve pain and topical applications like calamine lotion to reduce itching.
Shingles pain medication may also help with the long-term symptoms of PHN. However, nerve pain is challenging to treat, and regular painkillers may be ineffective. Therefore, doctors might prescribe anticonvulsant drugs, antidepressants, or anesthetic patches.
CBD and Shingles
Now that more people are searching for alternative remedies for a shingles outbreak, some are considering cannabidiol (CBD). It is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in marijuana and hemp and has various purported benefits. It exerts these benefits via the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system regulates the physiological functions in our peripheral and central nervous systems. It includes a series of CB1 and CB2 receptors.
A 2010 study looked at the effect of cannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and their antagonists on viral infections. The researchers concluded that “cannabinoids are profoundly anti-inflammatory.” Therefore, some people hypothesize that using CBD could help relieve a shingles rash.
While the symptoms of shingles are potentially resolved after a few weeks of treatment, the pain can persist for many years. Could CBD provide some relief?
CBD Oil for Shingles Pain
There is currently no research specifically on whether CBD can help with shingles and its painful red rashes. However, there is evidence that cannabis-based medicines could help certain complications, such as PHN.
A 2018 review looked at the effects of various cannabinoids on neuropathic pain. It included 16 clinical trials and 1750 participants, with study durations ranging from 2–26 weeks. The researchers investigated several neuropathic conditions, including PHN.
Although most of the evidence was low quality, the authors concluded that:
- Cannabis-based medicines may increase the number of participants experiencing at least 50% pain relief
- Cannabis-based medicines probably increase the number of participants experiencing at least 30% pain relief
The review included several consumption methods, including oral, oromucosal, and inhaled cannabinoids. However, it may be that topicals, such as CBD salve for shingles are also useful.
A 2020 randomized controlled trial investigated topical CBD application for peripheral neuropathy. Its results showed that the cannabinoid significantly reduced neuropathy symptoms compared to the placebo. These symptoms included:
- Intense pain
- Sharp pain
- Cold sensations
CBD for Shingles: Sensible Practices
Although it has shown promise, individuals should be cautious when using CBD to alleviate infections.
This is because scientists are still working to understand its effects on the immune system fully.
Some research suggests CBD has antiviral effects against some infections, including hepatitis C and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpes virus. However, it is also possible that specific cannabinoids could suppress the immune system and speed up virus progression.
Therefore, until we know more, it may be wise to avoid CBD during the early stages of shingles. While it should be safe for helping to reduce residual symptoms once the initial infection clears, we recommend consulting a physician before use.
Is THC Better Than CBD Oil for Shingles?
THC stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, activating the brain’s reward system and decreasing pain levels. Unlike CBD, THC is a cannabinoid receptor agonist. It binds directly to CB1 and CB2 receptors, though it has a greater affinity for CB1 receptors. CBD, in contrast, has an indirect effect on these receptors and doesn’t cause an intoxicating high like THC.
Research into marijuana’s effect on shingles is limited. However, it is fascinating to see that shingles was listed as a reason to use marijuana in the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1851!
One small study looked into the effects of another cannabinoid receptor agonist, N-palmitoyl ethanolamine (PEA), on the PHN experienced by shingles patients. Eight patients received a cream with the PEA cannabinoid in the study. Five of them reported a mean pain reduction of over 87%.
In general, there is evidence that cannabis is an effective analgesic, which is good news for anyone living with shingles pain. A review of studies published in JAMA in 2015 looked into cannabis to treat chronic pain. The researchers looked at data from 28 clinical trials performed between 1948 and 2015.
They emphasized six clinical trials featuring over 300 patients that examined chronic pain, six with almost 400 volunteers that looked at neuropathic pain, and 12 trials with over 1,600 patients that investigated cannabis’s effect on multiple sclerosis. Overall, the authors wrote that several trials had positive results.
So, Which Is Better for Shingles: THC or CBD?
THC could help with shingles symptoms such as pain. However, rather than saying it is “better” than CBD oil for shingles, it is a question of individual preference. For some people, the intoxicating high associated with THC provides them with greater relief than if they use CBD.
However, the cannabinoid causes the user to get high, meaning one can’t use it before or during work or if they intend to operate heavy machinery. Furthermore, marijuana remains a federally illegal substance and is outlawed in several states. One must live in a state where the substance is recreationally legal or a location with a medical marijuana program. In the latter case, one must have a valid MMJ card.
In contrast, CBD is broadly tolerated in almost every state and doesn’t cause an intoxicating high. Therefore, it is possible to use CBD at work without worrying about it hindering performance.
CBD Oil for Shingles: Is It Better to Use It Orally or Topically?
Individuals using CBD to help with skin infections must note the difference between an oral and topical application. Those who use oral cannabidiol claim it provides longer-lasting relief.
However, proponents of topical CBD products say they enjoy the fast effects. Topical products include salves, creams, lotions, and balms. The main difference between these products is the texture. Regardless of the topical one uses, applying it is simple. Ensure the skin is clean and dry before massaging the cream/lotion into it for several seconds. Users should wash their hands thoroughly afterward.
The Pros and Cons of Using CBD for Shingles
With a growing number of people using CBD for shingles, let’s check out the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.
- Cannabidiol doesn’t cause an intoxicating high.
- Research shows that humans can tolerate up to 1,500mg of CBD daily without noticeable side effects.
- The level of research that shows CBD’s efficacy for managing conditions such as nerve pain is growing.
- Most states have no issue with the purchase and sale of CBD products, as long as they come from hemp and contain a maximum of 0.3% THC.
- The FDA has yet to approve CBD for any medical condition. To date, it has only approved Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical drug containing CBD, for a handful of rare conditions.
- The CBD industry is poorly regulated, which means low-quality products flood the market.
- CBD could interact with a high percentage of OTC and prescription drugs.
- Clinical trials regarding the efficacy of CBD for shingles are lacking.
Best CBD Oil for Shingles – Things to Consider
Individuals wishing to try CBD oil for shingles pain have several options. Popular consumption methods include:
- Vape products
Topicals such as creams and balms may be most appropriate for localized problems such as shingles. They ensure that the product’s active compounds get to exactly where they are needed, providing more direct relief. However, not all topicals are equally effective, and it is critical to choose a high-quality product. And application over open shingles lesions is not recommended.
Not all topicals are equally effective, and it is critical to choose a high-quality product.
Firstly, look for a brand that publishes third-party lab test results on its website. These reports tell consumers how much CBD and other active ingredients the product contains. They also ensure the item in question is free from contaminants such as pesticides.
Secondly, choose a full-spectrum topical rather than one made from CBD isolate. Full-spectrum products contain a wealth of other compounds in addition to CBD. They include other beneficial cannabinoids such as CBG and CBN and various terpenes. These compounds could also have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.
Next, check the manufacturing process. For example, does the product come from organic hemp, and what extraction process does the company use? Most experts consider CO2 extraction to be the best as it is a clean process that yields a pure and potent result.
Finally, read plenty of online reviews to determine how satisfied previous customers were with their purchases. We also have many CBD brand reviews available here at WayofLeaf. Learn about our favorite CBD topicals here.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Shingles
Ultimately, evidence that CBD oil can help with shingles is limited. The theory is that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties could alleviate the pain caused by shingles rashes. Furthermore, the cannabinoid may effectively reduce the pain of PHN.
Despite the lack of research, a growing number of people living with shingles claim that CBD oil helps with their symptoms. Those interested in buying CBD products should heed the company’s manufacturing process and ensure the item(s) in question come with updated third-party lab reports.
How Long Does It Take Nerve Endings to Heal After Shingles?
For up to 50% of shingles patients aged 60+ who aren’t treated, the pain can last for months or years. Such individuals have post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), the term given for when shingles damages the skin’s nerves.
What Is the Best CBD Oil Dosage for Shingles?
At present, there are no established guidelines on CBD dosage for any purpose. However, we recommend using a small amount of CBD to see how it impacts the body. One can gradually increase the dosage until they feel noticeable benefits after determining that there are no adverse effects.
How to Take CBD Oil for Shingles?
There are many forms of CBD, though most people who use it for shingles prefer a topical product like a balm or cream. They feel it provides a more immediate effect on a target area than orally consumed CBD. Using a topical is as easy as rubbing it into the skin in a specific area.