There’s growing interest in using CBD for shingles and other viral conditions. Since CBD has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, it could potentially relieve the pain and rashes that characterize the disease.
On top of that, there’s some evidence that CBD may have antiviral properties.
However, all of this remains hypothetical as there aren’t any completed research studies yet looking at the use of CBD for shingles.
For now, there are only anecdotal reports from patients who have used CBD to relieve their symptoms. Nonetheless, researchers are hopeful about CBD’s potential.
Here’s how CBD might help with shingles and the best way to use it, according to available scientific research.
Also known as herpes zoster, shingles are a viral disease caused by the same virus (varicella-zoster) responsible for chickenpox. It results in a painful rash that typically affects the left or right side of your torso.
Shingles can happen after you’ve had chickenpox or were vaccinated for it. Researchers believe that shingles occur when the virus reactivates and the immune system fails to stop it from replicating.
That’s why it tends to happen in older adults and others with a weakened immune system.
Things that suppress your immune function, such as stress, illness, and the use of immunosuppressant medication, are common triggers for shingles. ¹
Shingles can be divided into distinct subtypes:
- Localized zoster: The most common form of shingles that affects one or two adjacent parts of the skin.
- Disseminated zoster: A type of shingles that affects three or more areas of the skin, resembling chickenpox. It typically occurs in people with severely weakened immune systems.
- Herpes zoster ophthalmicus: A type of shingles that affects the ophthalmic nerve, which supplies the eye and surrounding areas.
- Herpes zoster oticus: Also known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, this occurs when shingles affect the facial nerve close to one of your ears and may lead to facial paralysis and hearing loss.
Shingles Symptoms & Pathology
Pain is often the first sign of shingles because the virus replicates in your nerve cells, causing inflammation in the affected nerves. ² These nerves are connected to specific parts of the skin, which is why shingles also cause a rash in those areas.
The rash usually occurs on one side of the chest or abdomen, although it can also affect the face and other parts of the body.
Shingles can cause a burning or stinging pain, tingling, numbness, itchiness, sensitivity to touch, and blisters. Less common symptoms include fever, headaches, fatigue, and light sensitivity.
In some cases, shingles can lead to lasting nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia and other complications depending on the affected area, such as vision loss.
Can CBD Help With Shingles?
Researchers have yet to investigate the use of CBD for shingles.
Having said that, since inflammation and pain play a central role in the condition, CBD’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relief) properties may help.
Decades of studies have shown that taking CBD can lower inflammation, particularly by reducing concentrations of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines and influencing the activity of immune system cells. ³
Similarly, CBD’s analgesic effects have been demonstrated in numerous studies. ⁴ ⁵ Taken together, these effects may alleviate shingles pain, rashes, and the underlying nerve inflammation.
Additionally, early studies suggest that CBD may have antiviral properties:
- CBD reduced the replication of the hepatitis C virus by 86% under laboratory conditions in a 2017 study ⁶
- CBD counteracted the replication of laboratory-cultured skin cells infected with the Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) in a 2012 study ⁷
However, it’s difficult to say whether CBD has a similar direct antiviral effect in humans and on the virus that causes shingles.
CBD may also help shingles patients indirectly, by reducing anxiety, depression, and insomnia, which are more common in people with the condition. ⁸
CBD’s anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving), antidepressant, and sleep-promoting effects have been noted in multiple studies. ⁹ ¹⁰
How CBD Works
Using CBD for shingles might be beneficial but how does it work? Most of its effects come from interacting with your endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Made up of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and specific enzymes, the ECS regulates pain, metabolism, the nervous and immune systems, and other vital processes to maintain homeostasis – the body’s optimal state of balance. ¹¹
CBD can influence the effects our body’s endocannabinoids have on the cannabinoid receptors. ¹² For instance, CBD can reduce the breakdown of anandamide, one of the two main endocannabinoids made in our bodies. ¹³
Additionally, studies suggest that CBD can interact with many other molecules and systems involved in regulating pain and inflammation, including adenosine, TRP channels, the (NF)-κB pathway, glycine, and PPARγ receptors. ¹⁴ ¹⁵ ¹⁶ ¹⁷ ¹⁸
Because CBD addresses pain, inflammation, and other issues through multiple pathways, it can be more effective than substances that target only one or a few receptors.
What Does the Research Say?
At this time, there’s no clinical research available on CBD’s effects on shingles.
However, multiple studies have shown that CBD can relieve pain and inflammation, which play a central role in the condition. For example:
- In a 2020 study, CBD oil improved pain, and cold and itchy sensations in people with peripheral neuropathy, a type of nerve pain. ¹⁹
- In a 2019 study, full-spectrum CBD oil helped chronic pain sufferers reduce their painkiller usage and improved their quality of life. ²⁰
- In a 2018 study, transdermal CBD gel reduced pain in people with knee osteoarthritis. ²¹
- In a 2019 study of ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory digestive disorder, CBD-rich cannabis extract reduced disease severity and improved quality of life. ²²
Additionally, one recent paper reviewed currently available evidence for CBD’s effects on viral diseases, including shingles.
The researchers mentioned anecdotal online reports from CBD users who claimed that CBD helped relieve their shingles-related symptoms.
Although the authors stressed that these claims were not backed by research, they noted that they’re “plausible on the basis of the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of CBD and therefore deserve proper attention by the scientific community.” ²³
The researchers concluded their paper by speaking in favor of clinical trials to test CBD’s effects on shingles.
In summary, while we don’t have any hard evidence that CBD relieves the symptoms of shingles, it might help because of its well-documented anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.
Using CBD for Shingles
CBD can be used in many ways, including capsules, gummies, tinctures (CBD oils), vapes, and topicals.
Since shingles mostly affect the skin and nearby nerves, both topical and ingested CBD products can be helpful.
If you’re going to use CBD internally, CBD oil is typically the best option because it has better absorption than capsules, gummies, and other oral products. ²⁴ Alternatively, you can also vape CBD if you prefer immediate relief but the effects will last shorter than a tincture.
You can also apply CBD topically as a cream, balm, or a similar product, which will produce effects only where you applied it. It’s even better if you combine a CBD tincture with a topical.
We also recommend using full-spectrum CBD products that provide a full range of beneficial phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial hemp compounds.
By working together in synergy, these full-spectrum CBD can create the “entourage effect” that’s more potent than any cannabinoid on its own. ²⁵ There’s also some evidence that terpenes may have antiviral properties. ²⁶
How Much CBD Should I Take for Shingles?
The ideal CBD dosage for shingles varies from person to person. There are many factors to consider, including your body weight, genetics, the severity of your symptoms, and the type of CBD product you want to take.
As a result, most researchers and clinicians recommend the “start low and go slow” approach to dosing cannabinoids. ²⁷
That means taking a small dose (10-15 mg) of CBD and waiting about two hours to see its effects. You can then slowly raise the dosage over time until you settle on the amount that relieves your symptoms.
Because no clinical data is available for the use of CBD in treating shingles, this individualized approach will be the best way to find the optimal dosage.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Research has shown that CBD is a safe, well-tolerated substance. However, it can cause some side effects, including: ²⁸
- Tiredness and drowsiness
- Dry mouth
- Diarrhea and nausea
- Low blood pressure
- Changes in weight or appetite
The good news is that these effects are typically minor and have only been reported in studies using high oral doses of pure CBD.
Since most people use CBD sublingually (as CBD oil) in much smaller doses and often go with full-spectrum formulations rather than pure CBD, these effects are unlikely to occur.
To sum up, CBD holds real potential in relieving shingles pain and rashes.
CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system and other molecules throughout the body, helping lower inflammation and pain on multiple fronts.
While there are many ways to use CBD, the best approach for shingles is to combine an oral CBD oil with a topical CBD product specifically on affected areas.
However, there are no studies exploring CBD’s effects and the only evidence we have right now comes from anecdotal reports. Rigorous, placebo-controlled clinical trials are needed to validate the use of CBD for shingles.
Still, given its remarkable safety, there’s no harm in giving CBD a try, particularly when conventional medication fails to provide the desired relief.