Shingles is an extremely painful and common skin condition known to affect adults who have previously been exposed to a virus. It is a blistering skin rash that impacts approximately 1-in-3 Americans during their lifetime. It is especially prevalent in people aged 60+ which is why you should get the shingles vaccine at that age.
Also known as ‘herpes zoster,’ the painful rash caused by shingles can last from 2-4 weeks. However, it isn’t uncommon for those affected to suffer severe pain for months or even years after the initial rash goes away. This pain is also known as PHN (postherpetic neuralgia). An estimated 20% of shingles sufferers end up with PHN. While most people who get shingles only suffer the condition once, some people get it a second or even a third time.
How Do People Get Shingles?
The varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes shingles; it is the same virus responsible for chickenpox. If you ever contract chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body for many years. Medical researchers have yet to discover why, but in some cases, the VZV ‘reactivates’ many years later and causes shingles.
In other words, you are at risk if you’ve ever had chickenpox and while kids can contract the disease, the risk increases as you get older. In fact, over 50% of all cases occur in adults aged 60+. Your risk is even higher if you:
- Had a medical condition that prevented your immune system from functioning properly. Examples include HIV and cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia.
- Take immunosuppressive drugs such as medication received after organ transplantation or steroids.
How Does Shingles Impact the Lives of Sufferers?
As it develops on the body or face, shingles is potentially extremely noticeable. The rash forms blisters that scab over in 7-10 days and normally clears up in 2-4 weeks.
Before the development of the rash, symptoms include itching, pain, and tingling in the area that the rash ultimately develops. It is common for these sensations to begin anywhere from a day to five days before the appearance of the rash.
Sufferers of the rash find that it appears in a single stripe on the left or right-hand side of the body. Occasionally, the rash can look like chickenpox insofar as it is more widespread. Symptoms of shingles include:
- Possible loss of vision.
- Upset stomach.
It is a much more serious condition than many people believe. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that up to 4% of shingles sufferers are hospitalized in the United States. Around 30% of hospitalizations occur in individuals with weak immune systems. The CDC also estimates that an average of 96 people dies in the U.S. from shingles each year.
In what is a worrying trend, the rate of shingles amongst adults in America is increasing annually; especially in the senior population. As of 2014, only 28% of adults aged 60+ had the shingles vaccination in the United States.
Traditional Ways to Prevent & Treat Shingles That Don’t Involve Marijuana
According to the CDC, getting the shingles vaccination is the single best way to reduce the risk of contracting the disease. There are also several antiviral medicines such as valacyclovir, acyclovir, and famciclovir available to treat the condition. However, while these medicines are potentially effective, they only work if you take them as soon as possible after the illness.
Most patients use analgesics to relieve the pain, and other remedies include calamine lotion, wet compresses, and colloidal oatmeal baths.
Medical Research on Marijuana & Shingles
Marijuana contains cannabinoids; these are compounds believed to have properties that can protect nerve cells. Shingles sufferers in Connecticut received hope in February 2017 when a panel of doctors urged the state’s Consumer Protection Commissioner to add the condition to the list of medical issues that qualify for medical marijuana. The problem is, it could take a year for cannabis to be approved for shingles.
Regina Walsh spoke to the board and explained how her 95-year old father, George, needed help to cope with the debilitating pain of shingles that had affected him for three years. According to Walsh, every available form of medication either had no impact on his nerve pain, or else it did but led to negative side effects. One of the members of the panel, Dr. Vincent Carlesi, outlined that shingles could lead to suicide such is the pain it causes. The board agreed that marijuana should be used to treat the condition.
This news comes on the back of results from several studies which showed that cannabis compounds were effective ways to reduce chronic nerve related pain:
- Zoppi Silvia et al.: This 2011 study showed that by activating the CB1 receptor in the body, the cannabinoids found in marijuana could encourage neuroprotective actions that fight nerve inflammation and damage.
- Yannick Marchalant et al.: This 2008 study also found that activating the CB1 receptor helps reduce neuroinflammation, especially in the areas where shingles originate such as the basal ganglia and cerebellum.
5 Best Marijuana Strains for Shingles
There are several different ways to take marijuana when using it to relieve the pain of shingles:
- Using vaporizing equipment to inhale the marijuana’s cannabinoids as steam.
- Ingestion when added to food, beverages or tinctures.
- Smoking marijuana in ‘traditional’ fashion via cigarettes and pipes.
- Topical creams that are absorbed into the skin.
Remember, the main reason to use marijuana for shingles is to combat the intense pain of the condition; especially if you suffer from PHN. While there are many excellent marijuana strains to treat the pain of shingles, here are five of the best:
1 – ACDC (Sativa Marijuana Strain)
This marijuana strain has an extremely high sativa content with 20% CBD against a maximum of 6% THC although most marijuana strains have far lower levels. ACDC is an unusual but pleasant tasting strain with sweet, skunk and earthy flavors. As it makes you happier and calmer, it is a sociable marijuana strain which means you can use it before work or when you go out with friends.
2 – Cannatonic (Hybrid Marijuana Strain)
Cannatonic offers a 50/50 split between indica and sativa with 12% CBD and 7-15% THC. It offers a relaxing and uplifting high with a distinct woody citrus flavor and earthy smell. The indica/sativa ratio ensures your head remains clear so you can continue with your daily activities.
3 – CBD Kush Marijuana Strain
As is the case with Cannatonic, CBD Kush provides an even ratio between sativa and indica. It also has a CBD: THC ratio as high as 7:1 as it contains 7% CBD against as little as 1% THC. CBD Kush does an excellent job of easing pain, and its smooth exhale makes it a pleasure to smoke.
4 – Sour Tsunami Marijuana Strain
This is yet another hybrid marijuana strain with equal amounts of indica and sativa. It has a high CBD content of up to 11% against a THC level of around 10%. Sour Tsunami is typically used to treat seizures, insomnia, and chronic pain. Although it is relatively easy to find in Michigan and California, it is more difficult to come by if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest.
5 – Steven Hawking Kush Marijuana Strain
Also known as SBK, this marijuana strain is named after the legendary scientist. It has the highest CBD level on this list at 22%, which makes it ideal if you want to ease your pain but don’t wish to sacrifice functionality. It rewards users with delicious cherry and berry flavors with just a hint of mint.
When using medical marijuana, please be sensible. The list above contains marijuana strains with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC as they enable you to focus and stay alert while reducing the agony of shingles.