Can medical marijuana relieve the pain associated with shingles? I’d rather not take a prescription for the pain.

By Eloise Theisen | Last updated: December 15, 2021

nurse holding a container of cannabis topical

In most cases, the symptoms associated with shingles last about one month and resolve on their own. In these instances, cannabis (via inhalation or ingestion) can be an effective analgesic and can also help take your mind off your pain.

Some shingles patients, however, suffer from ongoing pain called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN affects nerve fibers and the skin and can lead to chronic peripheral neuropathy, which is chronic pain in the body leading up to the spinal cord and brain. Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by:

  • Microbial infections, such as the varicella-zoster virus (which causes chicken pox and shingles).
  • An underlying disease or condition, such as diabetes, shingles, or HIV/AIDs.
  • Nutritional deficiency such as lack of vitamin B12.
  • Chronic degenerative conditions that include autoimmune diseases, vasculitis, and cancer.
  • Adverse effects of numerous pharmaceutical drugs.

Studies demonstrate that cannabis can effectively treat neuropathic pain. For example, researchers at UC Davis Medical Center performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to study the effects of low and medium-dose vaporized cannabis for the treatment of neuropathy (the low dose contained 1.3 percent THC and the medium dose contained 3.5 percent THC). Patients reported that vaporized cannabis, even at the lowest doses, provided relief for patients with treatment-resistant neuropathic pains.

A review of 15 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials conducted on more 1,600 patients with chronic neuropathy found that cannabinoids worked significantly better compared to the placebo in reducing neuropathy. Ten of the studies used a plant-derived, 1:1 oromucosal spray, three studies were with nabilone and dronabinol, and two studies used cannabis flower.

The delivery method you use to consume cannabis will influence the benefits that you derive from cannabis medicines, and understanding the delivery methods and corresponding absorption sites can help you identify which products are best suited to treat neuropathy. For example, a topical can provide local relief with few (if any) side effects, while a cannabis edible can provide longer, systemic relief and, over time, can reduce inflammation. Inhaling cannabis can relieve pain quickly and can give you the most control over your dose.

Finally, when treating shingles, it’s important to get enough sleep and avoid stress, and small doses of cannabis can help alleviate stress, help facilitate sleep onset, and extend sleep duration.

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Written by Eloise Theisen | Nurse Practitioner, Founder of Radicle Health

Profile Picture of Eloise Theisen

Eloise Theisen, AGPCNP-BC, is a dedicated and patient-focused nurse. For over 17 years, she has specialized in aging, cancer, chronic pain, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, and various autoimmune and neurological diseases. The founder of Radicle Health, she started her career at John Muir Medical Center caring for patients suffering from cancer, terminal illnesses, respiratory failure/complaints, drug overdoses, acute alcohol ingestion, gastrointestinal bleeds, traumatic brain injury, and multiple traumas.

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