Shingles and Medical Marijuana Treatments

Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. As you get older, the virus may reappear as shingles. Although it is most common in people over age 50, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk.

Recent years have brought a wealth of new scientific understanding regarding how medical marijuana or cannabis can be beneficial for treating Shingles.

You can’t catch shingles from someone who has it. However, if you have a shingles rash, you can pass the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox. This would usually be a child, who could get chickenpox instead of shingles. The virus spreads through direct contact with the rash, and cannot spread through the air.

Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face. The pain can be mild to severe. Rashes or blisters appear anywhere from one to 14 days later. If shingles appears on your face, it may affect your vision or hearing. The pain of shingles may last for weeks, months, or even years after the blisters have healed.

There is no cure for shingles. Early treatment with medicines that fight the virus may help. These medicines may also help prevent lingering pain.

A vaccine may prevent shingles or lessen its effects. The vaccine is recommended for people 60 or over. In some cases doctors may give it to people ages 50 to 59.

How Medical Marijuana Helps Patients with Shingles

Shingles causes pain in part by attacking nerve cells. Traditional painkillers like morphine do not work well since shingles damages the receptors that would ordinarily allow traditional painkillers to provide relief. However, the receptors for cannabis and cannabinoids are located throughout the body and are not attacked by the shingles virus allowing medical marijuana to provide pain relief to shingles patients. Medical marijuana can also reduce inflammation, one of the major symptoms of shingles. Several studies have investigated the actions that allow medical marijuana to provide these types of relief:

  • The natural endocannabinoid system present in the human body, which cannabinoids in medical marijuana can activate, has neuro-protective functions that can fight nerve inflammation and damage. By activating the CB1 receptor in the body, cannabinoids from medical marijuana can encourage these neuro-protective actions (Regulatory Role of Cannabinoid Receptor 1 in Stress-Induced Excitotoxicity and Neuroinflammation, Silvia, Z., et al.)
  • Painkillers such as morphine can have a detrimental effect on the body’s ability to fight against pain on its own. Chronic or long term use of opioid painkillers has been shown to interfere with the action of the body’s natural endocannabinoids, especially once tolerance to opioids has developed (Chronic Morphine Modulates the Contents of Endocannabinoid, 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol, Viganò, D., et al.)
  • There are two known cannabinoid receptors in the body, CB1 and CB2. CB1 is more frequently found in the nervous system, particularly in the cerebellum and basal ganglia [where the pain caused by shingles primarily originates]. Activating the CB1 receptor causes significant reduction in neuroinflammation (Inflammation and aging: can endocannabinoids help, Marchalant, Y., et al.)

Medical marijuana can help relieve the symptoms of pain caused by shingles as well as potentially reduce inflammation and protect nerve cells no matter how patients choose to take their medication. This means that shingles patients have many options of how to medicate using medical marijuana according to what feels most comfortable. These options include:

  • Vaporizing medical marijuana using vaporizer equipment to inhale medical marijuana’s cannabinoids as steam
  • Smoking medical marijuana through more traditional means, such as pipes or cigarettes
  • Ingesting medical marijuana prepared in food, liquids or tinctures

As research continues, scientists are learning more about how medical marijuana can help shingles patients, as well as coming closer to a cure for this painful disease. Many patients with shingles have found relief through cannabis, which is approved for chronic pain in most medical marijuana states.  Speak with your doctor to find out if medical marijuana might be right for you.

Clinical Information Related to Shingles and Marijuana Cannabis

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