Shingles can leave some sufferers with long-term nerve damage that causes chronic pain. Conventional pain relief is often ineffective at treating this type of nerve pain, which has led some people to look for alternative ways to manage their condition. In this blog, we look at how CBD works, and we ask, does CBD help with shingles?
Shingles - what you need to know
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. It starts with a general feeling of being unwell and sometimes a pain or a tingling sensation in one area of skin, which is followed up by a rash a few days later. The blotchy rash can occur anywhere on the body, but it's usually found on the chest or abdomen on one side of the body. Over time the blotches become itchy, red blisters that dry out and scab over.
A shingles outbreak is caused by the varicella zoster virus, better known as chicken pox. When you have chicken pox the virus stays dormant in your system for many years and is reactivated when your immune system is lowered. This might be because of stress, another illness, or treatment, such as chemotherapy.
The rash usually clears up within four weeks, but in some people, shingles can have a long-lasting effect. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 10 to 18% of people who get shingles will continue to experience nerve pain long after the rash has gone - this is known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Post-herpetic neuralgia treatment
Damage to the nerve endings in the skin can cause long-term pain at the site of a shingles rash. In some people this nerve pain might be constant but for others it will come and go. It can feel like burning, shooting, stabbing, or a dull throbbing.
The pain doesn't respond to conventional drugs, like paracetamol and ibuprofen. While doctors can prescribe anti-depressants to treat post-herpetic neuralgia, these drugs can come with unpleasant side effects. This has led some people to look for alternative, natural options, like CBD oil.
It is thought that the anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relief) properties of CBD might be effective at alleviating the symptoms of shingles, but specifically the long-term nerve damage it can cause. It's already used widely by patients to treat chronic pain caused by conditions such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS).
What does the research say?
There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that CBD oil might be able to treat shingles, but more clinical research needs to be done. However, studies into the effects of CBD on nerve pain and PHN have shown promising results.
In 2020, a study looking at 29 people with peripheral neuropathy found that CBD oil significantly relieved pain in these patients¹. In a randomised test over four weeks, they gave two groups either a topical CBD oil or a placebo. The group taking CBD showed an improvement in pain compared with the placebo group.
Similar results were found in a study of eight patients with facial post-herpetic neuralgia². They all received a cream containing a cannabinoid receptor agonist, and five of the eight patients experienced a pain reduction of 87.8%. Moreover, all of the patients tolerated the cream well and experienced no side effects.
What is CBD oil and how does it work?
CBD is a phytocannabinoid - an organic compound - found in a species of cannabis plant. Though it's related to marijuana, there are some key differences - it has no addictive properties and it won't give you the 'high sensation' you might expect.
Added to a carrier agent, like coconut oil or hemp seed oil, CBD oil can be taken orally, inhaled or applied topically. It's available in a range of different options, including:
- Oils (tinctures) and sprays
- Edibles, such as CBD tea, coffee, chocolate, and CBD gummies
- Vapes and e-liquids
- Muscles balms, salves, gel, and lotions
- CBD Skincare and bath products
They all work by interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system. This is a complex series of receptors that carries messages around your body to regulate sleep, mood, fertility, memory, and appetite. There are two types of receptors:
- CB1 receptors - found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)
- CB2 receptors - found in the peripheral nervous system, such as your organs
It's thought that CBD can intercept the CB2 receptors to reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. Researchers also think that cannabidiol might be an anti-oxidant, and have neuroprotective properties.
In the UK, medical cannabis is used by the NHS to treat some forms of epilepsy, sickness in cancer patients, and muscle stiffness and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has licensed one cannabis-derived product (Epidiolex) to treat two rare forms of severe epilepsy.
Using CBD oil for shingles
To alleviate neuropathic pain caused by shingles, we recommend using a topical cream or an oil (tincture). There is no standard dosage for using CBD in this way, so you should 'start low and go slow' - gradually increase the amount of CBD oil you use every day until you are happy with the results. Once you're happy with the dose, stick with it, because unlike with conventional medicine, you won't build up a resistance to CBD oil.
CBD salve for shingles
If you're looking for immediate relief from the burning sensation and pain associated with nerve damage, you could try a topical CBD treatment applied directly to the skin. Love Hemp's CBD-infused body salve contains organic hemp mixed with essential oils like eucalyptus and lavender to soothe hot, inflamed skin.
We don't recommend applying CBD products to broken or damaged skin. You should wait until the rash has healed before you use anything on it.
CBD oils and sprays
Oils and sprays are still two of the most popular CBD products available. Taken under your tongue - a capillary-rich area - the CBD oil reaches the blood stream quickly. We like Green Stem's CBD oral drops in peppermint flavour. Forget the bitter, earthy taste of hemp because these oils taste great and are easy to take on-the-go.
For maximum absorption hold the drops under your tongue for one minute before swallowing.
The key takeaway
Though there may not be a lot of clinical evidence that CBD oil can treat shingles itself, there are promising signs that this natural compound can help treat the pain and inflammation caused by post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Traditional pain relief is often ineffective at managing nerve pain but CBD offers an alternative potential solution to pain management. It's thought to interact with receptors in the body to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
CBD can be taken in lots of different ways, but for shingles treatment, a topical salve or a tincture (oil) works best. These products are safe-to-use and tolerated well by most people with few to no side effects.
- Caporuscio, Jessica, Medical News Today [online] Does CBD oil help neuropathic pain? [updated 25 Feb 2021; cited 4 Oct 2021] Available from: https://bit.ly/3EghpN6
- Shattler, Kathy, Health Canal [online] Best CBD oil for shingles 2021 - top 5 best effective products [updated 9 Aug 2021; cited 4 Oct 2021] Available from: https://bit.ly/3DcKaJi