If you have ever had chickenpox, you could be at risk for shingles, but cannabidiol (CBD) oil may help manage some of the symptoms.
Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, better known as chickenpox. After a person suffers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body until it becomes “activated.”
Though it’s not life-threatening, shingles can cause significant pain and inconvenience for those who experience it. Common treatments aren’t always effective and come with unwanted side effects. However, some people have found success in treating shingles with CBD.
What are Shingles?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shingles are caused by a viral infection that produces painful rashes and blisters. If you contract chickenpox at some point in your life, the virus can lie dormant in the nerve tissue of your spinal cord and brain. In some people, the virus can reactivate years later and travel back along the nerve pathways to the surface of the skin, causing shingles.
Most who suffer from shingles will get a painful, blistering rash, which typically occurs on the torso, though it can also affect the neck or face. This rash may be associated with itching, burning, numbness, and sensitivity to touch while some shingles patients also experience headaches, fever, light sensitivity, and fatigue. Most people make a full recovery, but complications including vision loss, neuralgia, and skin infections can occur in more serious cases.
Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes shingles, but since it occurs most often in people over 50, it’s believed to be linked with lowered immunity. Having certain diseases, like HIV or cancer, can increase your risk of shingles, and not properly managing stress can trigger shingles since stress lowers the immune system.
Taking certain medications, such as steroids, can also cause a heightened risk, as can common cancer treatments including radiation and chemotherapy. The chickenpox and shingles vaccines are valuable preventative measures for those at a greater risk for shingles, but around 1 million cases still occur in the U.S. each year.
How Are Shingles Usually Treated?
Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famvir) are commonly used to treat shingles but may also come with side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and more.
There’s no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment can help shorten its duration and diminish the risk of complications. Most doctors will also prescribe painkillers, numbing agents, steroids, or even local anesthetic to mitigate the severe pain associated with the shingles rash.
Shingles generally last for two to six weeks with proper treatment. Most people only get shingles once, though it is possible to contract it more than this. For the majority of patients, pain management is the most important facet of shingles treatment—and new research suggests CBD may be able to help.
Are Shingles Contagious?
Anyone with shingles can spread the virus, but only to someone who has never had chickenpox before. When someone contracts chickenpox, their bodies develop antibodies to protect themselves from contracting it again.
Those who’ve never had chickenpox would be susceptible to the virus, however, they wouldn’t get shingles – they would get chickenpox. This is because shingles can only manifest by being “activated” by the dormant form of the virus. Unfortunately, chickenpox can be very dangerous, and even fatal. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), adults who never had chickenpox as children, or who have never been vaccinated, contracting chickenpox could mean pneumonia, meningitis, or encephalitis.
Once shingles blisters have scabbed over, the virus is no longer contagious, and it won’t spread if the blisters are well-covered.
Do Shingles Lead to Other Complications?
Shingles symptoms typically go away in less than a month, but in rare cases, it can lead to complications within the organs. A severe shingles outbreak may not be life-threatening, but it has the potential to make someone lose their eyesight if it infects the eye. For the lungs, it can cause pneumonia; in the liver, it can cause hepatitis; and for the brain, it can lead to encephalitis.
Early treatment for any viral infection is always recommended as it can help prevent your symptoms from spiraling out of control and avoid any long-term issues. The most prevalent complication that arises from a shingles outbreak is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). With normal shingles, symptoms will subside once the rash is gone; with PHN — the pain, tingling, itching, and burning will last months after the rash is gone.
Why Use CBD Oil for Shingles?
As Healthline explains, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of receptors scattered throughout the body that helps maintain homeostasis by regulating inflammation, pain, mood, and memory. CBD contains cannabinoids, which are natural compounds that work to activate endocannabinoid receptors. These trigger responses that lessen the pain and inflammation associated with shingles.
CBD for Shingles Pain
CBD may help Shingle pain by elevating a substance within the body called anandamide. This substance binds to CB1 receptors in the ECS, helping regulate pain sensitivity, particularly inflammatory or neuropathic pain responses. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), CBD may provide a valuable alternative to traditional painkillers like NSAIDs or even prescription pain medications. Many patients worry about the side effects or habit-forming nature of pain-relieving drugs and seek options without these associated risks. For patients seeking relief from the pain associated with shingles, CBD can be a possible alternative to traditional medications.
CBD for Shingles Inflammation
The painful red rash that characterizes shingles is caused by skin inflammation, another condition where CBD shines as a treatment option. The cannabinoid compounds within CBD can also bind with CB2 receptors, which regulate the body’s inflammatory response. A CBD salve for shingles pain may be particularly effective when applied directly to the rash, allowing the anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD to lessen the severity and duration of shingles symptoms.
This can all be traced back to the influence CBD has over our endocannabinoid system. Shingle rashes are exacerbated by inflammation, and because the endocannabinoid system plays a direct role in the regulation of inflammation — it’s easy to understand what makes CBD oil such an attractive remedy.
Determining the Right Amount of CBD Oil for Shingles
Some patients may prefer to ingest CBD as an oil, gummy, or pill for shingles pain relief. If you’re interested in one of these options, it can take some experimentation to find the serving size that’s right for you. There’s no set amount of CBD to use, and most experts recommend starting with the lowest possible amount and working upward gradually until you see the desired effects. Many patients find 20-25mg effective for daily pain relief. You could also use a ratio of 1 to 6mg per 10 pounds of body weight for a conservative starting amount.
You might also choose a topical treatment in the form of CBD cream. A CBD intensive cream can provide immediate, targeted relief to areas of discomfort, and it may be particularly effective to reduce the inflammation, redness, and swelling associated with the shingles rash.
If you’re interested in trying out a CBD topical cream, you can simply apply it to any area affected by shingles. Make sure the skin is clean, dry, and free of any other substances so the cream can absorb effectively. For best results, massage the cream gently into the skin for a few seconds to encourage deeper absorption. You can use a CBD-infused cream as often as you like for topical relief from shingles pain.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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