Shingles is a painful infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chicken pox—as many of us have during our childhood, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate later in life, typically past the age of 50.
Shingles causes a painful rash that usually appears on the torso, sometimes progressing into blisters and boils. It can be extremely painful, causing a variety of sensations—from burning to tingling and numbness. The condition, which typically lasts between three to five weeks, can also bring on other symptoms like sensitivity, fever, headache and fatigue. Long-term pain can also persist, even after the rash has cleared up.
Shingles attacks the nerve cells, making it extremely hard to get relief from pain. It can also block certain receptors that usually allow the affected individual to find relief with medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and opioids. Due to the inability for these receptors to be properly targeted by these types of painkillers, doses prescribed for people with shingles are often high. This can often do more harm than good, since high doses of pain-relieving medications such as opioids, taken over a period of time, can lead to dependence and even addiction.
Cannabis Can Provide Relief for Shingles Sufferers
Because endocannabinoid receptors are found all over the body, they’re not blocked in the same way the nerve receptors are when shingles strikes. This allows cannabis—whose phytocannabinoids can engage with the endocannabinoid receptors—to provide pain relief in a way NSAIDs and opioids can’t.
Cannabis also has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties that can greatly reduce the pain and long-term effects caused by shingles. A 2011 study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that cannabis had multifaceted neuroprotective effects. The study, which used animal models, found that it was the activation of CB1 receptors that helped prevent damage to nerves.
Cannabis is known for its effective analgesic qualities, especially in relation to neuropathic pain, which is the kind of pain most often caused by shingles. Neuropathic pain, which often doesn’t react to traditional pain-relieving pharmaceuticals, can be greatly reduced by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), according to a 2009 study from Neurotherapeutics.
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Another 2015 study from the Journal of Oral and Facial Pain and Headache also showed that cannabinoids were effective at relieving neuropathic pain that didn’t respond to other treatments. The study, which was a review of various randomized, placebo-controlled studies conducted starting in the 1950s, also noted an overall improvement of sleep, nausea, anxiety and appetite in patients who consumed cannabis.
Cannabis-Infused Topicals Can Help With Painful Rashes from Shingles
Because the painful rash that comes with shingles is often restricted to a specific area of the body, using marijuana-infused topical products is a good option. Cannabis topicals, which can come in the form of salves, creams, lotion, balms or oils, are absorbed through the skin. The topical products bond to CB2 receptors and provide localized pain relief.
THC-infused topicals can provide pain relief without being psychoactive because they’re not absorbed into the bloodstream. Meanwhile, topical products infused with cannabidiol (CBD) can help decrease painful swelling and inflammation associated with rashes that break out on the body. Medical cannabis, no matter the form, can help people afflicted with shingles find relief from their pain and suffering.
Photo credit: Simon Wijers
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