Shingles has become more common and today one in three Finns suffers from the symptoms caused by shingles, which includes e.g. pain and itching. This article reviews studies on the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on shingles.
What is shingles (herpes zoster)?
Shingles is a viral infection also known as herpes zoster (HZ). Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus that causes chickenpox. After contracting chicken pox, the virus can remain dormant in the body and reactivate later, causing inflammation in the body. (1)
The most common symptoms of shingles are a severe rash, blisters, fever and headache. Shingles is more common in older people with weakened immune systems. However, anyone who has had chickenpox can sometimes develop shingles. The infection is treated with antiviral drugs and pain-relieving treatments. (1)
In the past, shingles was mainly associated with inflammation of the peripheral nervous system and nerve ganglion, but since then it has been noticed that the virus also often occurs in people who do not have symptoms related to the central nervous system at all. (1)
Shingles is rare in infants. Its outbreak in older people is associated with a weakening of the immune system. Aging significantly increases the likelihood of developing shingles. For people under 45, the risk of shingles increases e.g. steroids, cancer treatments, leukemia, HIV, AIDS and lymphoma. In the study, diabetes also seems to be one of the reasons for the occurrence of shingles. (1)
The chicken pox virus that causes shingles is easily transmitted by droplet infection and through contact with other people. The incubation period of the disease is on average 10-12 days, after which the blisters start to appear. The virus can be transmitted a few days before the blisters appear and for a week after that, until the skin blisters have turned into scabs. The risk of infection mainly concerns those who have not previously had chicken pox or persons with weak immunity. (1)
Symptoms of Shingles
Symptoms of shingles include a painful rash, blisters, fever and headache. In generally healthy people, the symptoms are often milder. The first symptom is often pain, which can start as early as a week before any visible changes appear on the skin. Small, brightly colored blisters and redness usually appear on the skin. (2)
Shingles often occurs on the trunk, legs and face. Symptoms are less often observed in the limb area. The infection can also enter the eye and cause blisters in the mucous membranes of the pharynx and mouth. The symptoms are often accompanied by warmth and the experience of being sore. (2)
Although the virus that causes shingles cannot be completely removed, its symptoms can be treated in addition to medication with various natural products and treatments that can relieve itching, stress, inflammation and pain. The treatment should be planned according to the situation and started as quickly as possible when the first symptoms appear.
When a patient seeks treatment for shingles, the condition and the need for treatment are first assessed. The general recommendation is to start treatment as soon as possible so that possible treatments are more effective. If the patient is an older person or if the symptoms include a challenging rash, immune deficiency and severe pain, the situation is usually treated with medication. Common drugs used include e.g. famciclovir, aciclovir and valaciclovir. (1)
The antiviral drugs used in the treatment of shingles are classified as nucleoside analogues, the purpose of which is to prevent herpes viruses from reproducing. Medicines work best when treatment is started as early as possible after the first symptoms appear. (1)
Natural treatments and tips
Along with medical treatment, natural treatments are alternative ways to ease the challenges caused by shingles. Listed below are the most effective treatments and the best tips for relieving symptoms.
Blisters caused by shingles can cause annoying itching. Scratching the blisters may worsen the symptoms and cause scarring. The itching should be treated with soothing baths, cool towels and different creams. (3)
Skin soothing creams can be used for the symptoms of shingles. Ointments may not speed up the healing process, but they can provide relief from symptoms. Among the creams, you should choose one that does not contain perfumes, as they can irritate the skin. Creams found to be good are those that contain natural capsaicin, which is the hot ingredient known from chili peppers. Capsaicin has been studied to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Chili cream can be used several times a day as needed. In addition to this, after showering and bathing, you can apply calamine cream to soothe the skin, which also helps to dry the blisters. (3)
The cream should be used sparingly, as too much use may prevent the ulcers from drying out. Creams containing antibiotics are not recommended for use on rashes caused by shingles. (3)
A cool bath
Cleaning the blisters that appear on the skin daily can reduce the risk of spreading the infection. A cool bath or shower may provide relief in an acute situation by relieving the pain caused by the blisters and soothing the itching caused by shingles. (3)
In addition to cool water, an oat bath can also reduce symptoms, leaving the skin feeling pleasantly soft. Preparing an oat bath is easy and effortless. Add 1 dl of finely ground oatmeal or oat flour to lukewarm bath water, which is soaked for about 15 minutes before the bath. Too hot water may make the situation worse. After bathing, the body should be dried carefully. (3)
In addition to baths, itching and pain can be treated with cool and damp towels or cloths. To alleviate the symptoms, it is recommended to use a wet towel several times a day. For best results, a towel or cloth is first soaked in cool water, then the excess water is squeezed out and applied to the skin, over the blisters. It is not recommended to use an ice pack that is too cold, as it may worsen the symptoms. (3)
An optimal diet can strengthen immunity and thus prevent the spread of shingles in the body. It is recommended to include an amino acid called lysine in the diet, as well as vitamins B-12, E, A and C. (3)
The list of foods to avoid includes foods and drinks that contain a lot of sugar. In addition, it may be worth avoiding foods rich in arginine, such as nuts, chocolate and gelatin, because arginine may even feed the virus in some cases. (3)
Baking soda and cornstarch
Itching caused by shingles can also be relieved with a paste made from baking soda or cornstarch. The paste is made by making a mixture of two-thirds baking soda or alternatively cornstarch and an additional 1 part water. Water creates a paste-like consistency that is applied directly to the rash. The paste is rinsed off after 15 minutes. If necessary, the procedure can be repeated several times during the day. (3)
Many shingles sufferers use cannabinoids to relieve their shingles symptoms. Studies have shown that cannabinoids such as CBD , CBG, and THC have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, making them a potential treatment for shingles (4, 5, 6).
Saunas and hot water stimulate blood circulation, so you should avoid saunas and hot showers when suffering from shingles.
CBD, cannabinoids and shingles
There is research evidence for the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of shingles. Research suggests that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that may be helpful in treating shingles symptoms.
The best-known cannabinoid, CBD, has been found to have analgesic effects that can help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with shingles. Cannabinoids have an effect on the body to the functioning of the endocannabinoid system , through which they can modulate the immune system and ease the inflammation associated with shingles.
Additionally, cannabinoids may help reduce stress, which is often associated with an increased risk of developing shingles (7). Stress has been shown to weaken the immune system and make it harder for the body to fight infections. By reducing stress, cannabinoids can prevent the occurrence of shingles or reduce the symptoms caused by it.
Although the use of cannabinoids seems promising, more research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of use, especially for shingles.
Although the viral infection that causes shingles cannot be completely eradicated from the body, its symptoms can be alleviated with natural remedies, cannabinoids, and antiviral drugs. In addition, skin-soothing baths and creams are recommended for self-care. According to studies, cannabinoids can reduce pain, stress and inflammation, thus helping with the symptoms of shingles.
- Anneli Lauhio and Veli-Jukka Anttila. 2009. Duodecim. Shingles prevention and treatment. https://www.duodecimlehti.fi/duo98210. Referred on 16.01.2023
- Brother Jukka Anttila. 2021. Health Library . Shingles. https://www.terveyskirjasto.fi/dlk00554. Referred on 16.01.2023
- Healthline. 2019. Shingles natural treatment. https://www.healthline.com/health/shingles-natural-treatment. Referenced 01/17/2023
- Mlost, J. et al. 2020. Polish Academy of Sciences. Poland. Cannabidiol for Pain Treatment: Focus on Pharmacology and Mechanism of Action https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/21/22/8870/html. Referenced 01/17/2023
- S. Giacoppo et al. 2017. Cannabinoid CB2 receptors are involved in the protection of RAW264.7 macrophages against the oxidative stress: an in vitro study . https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28348416/. Referenced 01/17/2023
- J.R. Johnson et al. Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of THC: CBD extract and THC extract in patients with intractable cancer-related pain. 2010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19896326/. Referenced 01/17/2023
- J. Henson et al. 2021. MDPI. Enhancing Endocannabinoid Control of Stress with Cannabidiol.. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/10/24/5852/html. Referenced 01/17/2023