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Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

marijuana for shingles

Medical Marijuana and Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Many have been taking advantage of the therapeutic effects of cannabis for some time now. Now, researchers are studying the benefits of medical marijuana for shingles. Many patients swear by its powerful ability to fight pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

What Are Shingles?

Shingles is a condition caused by the same virus chickenpox comes from — the varicella-zoster virus. The virus stays in your body after you have chickenpox. It often lies dormant for years without causing any issues. Two out of three individuals won’t develop shingles in their lifetime. Unfortunately, this means that one out of three will, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As you age, however, it can come back as shingles. While it tends to strike individuals older than 50 years old, anyone is at risk if they’ve had the chickenpox. In fact, about half of all shingles cases occur in individuals under the age of 60.

Shingles aren’t something you can catch from another person who has it. However, you can pass the virus on to a person who hasn’t had chickenpox yet if you have a shingles rash. You have to come in contact with the rash directly — you can’t catch it through the air.

Shingles don’t have a cure, but you may fight the virus and prevent lingering pain with medication if treated early.

shingles vaccination

Getting vaccinated can lessen its effects or may prevent shingles altogether. Doctors recommend the vaccine to individuals who are 60 years old or older and sometimes for individuals ages 50 to 59.

Causes and Risk Factors of Shingles

While shingles stem from the herpes zoster virus, nobody knows for certain what reactivates the chickenpox virus to cause shingles. Some researchers believe certain conditions could contribute to the reactivation of the virus, since higher incidences of shingles associate with them:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Cancer
  • A weakened immune system
  • Skin injury where the rash occurs
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Radiation treatments

Anyone who has already had chickenpox can get shingles. Around 25 percent of adult individuals, even when healthy, will end up with shingles at some point in their life, typically after they turn 50 years old, reports the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The likelihood of shingles increases with age — therefore, adults over 60 years old are 10 times more likely to get shingles than kids under 10. Those who are aging, have compromised immune systems or who use prednisone or other immunosuppressive medications are at a higher risk of the condition.

Young children who had chickenpox as infants or whose mothers developed chickenpox around five to 21 days before giving birth are at a greater risk of pediatric shingles.

History of Shingles

Shingles has been around since the Middle Ages. But doctors often confused shingles with smallpox, since smallpox was prevalent during that time. During the mid-1700s, William Heberden, a scientist, figured out how to tell the difference between smallpox and shingles. The cause of shingles was determined a century later.

In 1831, scientist Richard Bright became the first to discus the origin of shingles. He thought the spinal ganglion, or the dorsal root ganglion, carried the condition. Zostavax, an experimental drug, was developed in 2005 to treat shingles. The FDA approved this drug in 2006 believing it was beneficial.

Symptoms of Shingles

The symptoms of shingles affect one side of your body in a small section. Symptoms of shingles you may experience include:

  • Burning, pain, tingling or numbness
  • Itching
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Blisters filled with fluid crusting and popping over
  • A red rash beginning several days after you experience pain
  • A headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light

The first symptom of the condition is usually pain. This pain can be intense for some people. Depending on where the pain is, you could mistake it for a symptom of problems affecting your lungs, heart or kidneys. You may experience pain with shingles without developing a rash.

While chickenpox occurs all over your body, shingles usually only affect one side of your body. The blisters of shingles tend to happen on your torso on one side of your body, wrapping around your waist. They may show up on one side of your face as well which calls for an immediate visit to the doctor.

Effects of Shingles

Shingles can cause both physical and mental complications:

Physical Effects

The most common physical effects of shingles are:

  • Postherpetic Neuralgia: Some individuals continue experiencing pain from shingles long after the rash and blisters are gone. When this happens, it’s called postherpetic neuralgia, and it occurs when you have damaged nerve fibers sending exaggerated and confused pain messages to your brain from your skin.
  • Neurological problems: Shingles may cause encephalitis (brain inflammation), balance or hearing problems or facial paralysis depending on the nerves affected.
  • Vision loss: Ophthalmic shingles (shingles around or in your eye) may cause painful infection of the eye potentially leading to vision loss.
  • Skin infections: Bacterial infections of the skin may develop if you don’t treat your shingles blisters properly.

Mental Effects

The most common mental effects of shingles are:

  • Stress: In several studies, researchers found a link between stressful life events and daily, chronic stress with shingles. According to studies, stress could be a risk factor if mood disorders, poor diet, advancing age and other factors are present. These factors can affect the immune system negatively.
  • Anxiety: People who have shingles are anxious over if the condition will spread to more areas of their bodies, how long it will take to go away, if it’s contagious and how long it will last. They also worry about whether the treatment will work, and may be embarrassed by their rash, particularly if it’s on the part of their body seen by others. Females and those over 60 years of age are more likely to experience anxiety when they shingles.
  • Depression: When a case of shingles leads to postherpetic neuralgia and the patient is suffering from intense pain persisting for months or years, it could increase their risk of developing depression.

shingles and anxiety

Shingles Statistics

Statistics about shingles according to the CDC include:

  • Around one out of every three Americans in their lifetime will develop shingles.
  • Around one million shingles cases will occur in the U.S. each year.
  • Individuals who had the chickenpox could develop shingles.
  • Kids can get shingles, but your risk of shingles increases with age.
  • Shingles are on the rise in the U.S.

Current Treatments Available for Shingles and Their Side Effects

Doctors usually diagnose shingles based on any blisters and rashes along with your pain history in one area of your body. They may take a tissue culture or scraping of your blisters to examine them in the laboratory.

A shingles rash usually clears in a few weeks without treatment. However, dermatologists do urge you to receive treatment since, without it, you’re likely to experience pain, itching, tingling and numbness that potentially lasts for months to years, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Treatments may include:

Pain Relievers

If your pain becomes intense, you may require prescription pain medication. Narcotic painkillers do pose the threat of addiction. Other side effects may include:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Nausea or vomiting

Antiviral Medication

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication immediately after diagnosing you, since these medicines work better the earlier you begin treatment. Some antiviral medications include valacyclovir, famciclovir and acyclovir. These medicines may help to reduce your pain and the length of time your pain lasts. Side effects may include:

  • Red spots on your skin not related to chickenpox or herpes
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Fever
  • Fainting or weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Yellowed or pale skin

Nerve Blocks

Your doctor may give you nerve block injections for intense pain. These injections contain a numbing anesthetic and, in some cases, a corticosteroid. Side effects may include:

  • Rash
  • Weight gain
  • Elevated blood sugars
  • Itching
  • Extra energy
  • Bleeding
  • Soreness at injection site
  • Death (extremely rare)

Corticosteroids

To reduce pain and swelling, your doctor may prescribe you corticosteroid pills along with your antiviral medication. This isn’t a common treatment, however, since it could cause your rash to spread. Side effects may include:

  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Weight gain
  • Hypertension
  • Skin thinning
  • Bruising easily
  • Glaucoma and cataracts
  • Increased susceptibility to infection

Your doctor may prescribe other treatments after your rash clears, such as anesthetic patches and creams, anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications or pain relievers.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Using a wet cold compress on your blisters or taking a cool bath may help relieve your pain and itching. Reducing the stress in your life may help as well.

shingles recovery

Typically, shingles goes away on its own within two to four weeks. If you’re healthy and young, you should expect to make a full recovery. Around one to four percent of individuals with shingles have complications that require hospitalization. Thirty percent of these individuals have impaired immune systems.

How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Shingles

You have endocannabinoid receptors all over your body. Blockage of these receptors doesn’t occur in the same manner as other types, which allows medical marijuana to provide you with relief from your pain in a way other treatments can’t. Marijuana for shingles also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties to potentially decrease your pain greatly, along with the other long-term effects shingles causes.

The journal Neuropsychopharmacology published a 2011 study showing medical weed had multifaceted neuroprotective effects. Researchers used animal models in the study and found that the activation of CB1 receptors helped prevent nerve damage.

What Side Effects and Symptoms of Shingles Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Research shows marijuana and shingles treatment can dramatically improve symptoms in patients with shingles. While shingles itself isn’t yet a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, chronic pain is. As most anyone who has had shingles can attest, shingles are painful. The pain can last for days, weeks, months and even years after the shingles rash clears.

Medical cannabis for shingles can:

  1. Reduce the occurrence of postherpetic neuralgia
  2. Decrease your need for other pain medicines
  3. Prevent skin infections
  4. Help improve neuropathic pain
  5. Work as a topical treatment to improve the rash of shingles

The research also shows marijuana could be among the most effective treatments for shingles and its symptoms. While it can’t cure shingles, it may offer you a certain amount of relief other medical therapies can’t.

Medical pot is popular for its highly effective analgesic qualities, particularly when it comes to relieving neuropathic pain associated with shingles. A Neurotherapeutics 2009 study showed the THC in cannabis for shingles relieves neuropathic pain when traditional pharmaceuticals have failed.

The Journal of Oral and Facial Pain and Headache conducted a 2015 study showing cannabinoids effectively relieved neuropathic pain that wasn’t responsive to other forms of treatment. This study reviewed numerous randomized and placebo-controlled studies researchers began in the 1950s, which all supported the review’s conclusion. According to the review, other improvements were in the following areas:

Shingles attacks nerve cells, which are part of where the pain comes from. Morphine and other traditional pain relievers have questionable effectiveness since shingles causes damage to the receptors that normally allow regular pain relievers to offer relief. But you have cannabinoid and cannabis receptors throughout your body and shingles doesn’t attack these — this allows medical pot to offer pain relief for shingles patients. Medical cannabis can also decrease inflammation — another main symptom of shingles.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Shingles Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

While many medical weed strains are highly effective at treating shingles pain, patients report particularly pleasing results with these strains:

  • Snowcap
  • Tangerine Kush
  • Blue Dream
  • Butterscotch
  • Super Lemon Haze
  • Super Skunk
  • Strawberry Cough
  • Purple Diesel
  • Banana Diesel
  • Maui Waui
  • Nice

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat the Side Effects and Symptoms of Shingles

There are various ways to take your medical cannabis for shingles treatment. Some ways include:

Individuals with shingles can benefit from topical cannabis products. You experience shingles pain in specific areas, and that makes topical marijuana medications a great option to target these areas. Medical cannabis topicals come in various forms such as balms, creams, oils and salves that your skin absorbs. These topical products bond to your CB2 receptors once absorbed through your skin and provide you with targeted, localized pain relief.

topical creams

Topicals infused with THC provide you with pain relief without being psychoactive, since they don’t enter your bloodstream. You also get anti-inflammatory properties through CBD-infused topicals to help reduce the inflammation causing your physical rashes and pain.

No matter what method you use for your cannabis shingles treatment, it’s a great choice to relieve the pain and other frustrating symptoms.

Get Started With Your Cannabis Shingles Treatment Today

Many shingles patients have found relief through cannabis, which is approved for chronic pain in most medical marijuana states. Although shingles doesn’t have a cure and is a painful skin condition, using medical marijuana can significantly reduce pain and relieve the blisters, rash and skin discomfort the disease brings on.

Find a cannabis dispensary or search for a marijuana doctor to get your marijuana recommendation so you, too, can start getting the relief you deserve from this painful condition.

 

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals. If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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