Shingles is a painful condition that originates from the same virus that causes chickenpox, called varicella zoster. For reasons that are poorly understood, decades after contracting chickenpox, the virus can “wake up” in some individuals, causing shingles. Unlike chickenpox, shingles is not contagious, but it does cause painful symptoms such as headache, sensitivity to light, rashes, blistering, and trouble thinking clearly. There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatments that can reduce the pain and symptoms associated with it, including medical marijuana.
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.