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Most people who contract the varicella-zoster virus and develop chickenpox go through an uncomfortable period of intense itching. Eventually, the infection resolves on its own.

But did you know that the virus can live in your body for years after the fact?

In some people, the virus reactivates years later, causing a viral infection called shingles, which many people describe as more painful than chickenpox. Shingles typically causes blistering on one side of the body and a painful, burning rash.

People use cannabidiol (CBD) for many ailments, including pain and inflammation, which is why some people believe it can help with shingles. But is that really true? Below, we look into the research about CBD for shingles and offer up some CBD product suggestions.

CBD glossary

There are three different types of CBD.

  • Full-spectrum. This means the product contains all the various cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant, including trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the ingredient that produces a “high.” Research into the entourage effect suggests that CBD works better with THC.
  • Isolate. This is a pure form of CBD that’s highly processed and contains only CBD.
  • Broad-spectrum. This means the product contains some cannabinoids and terpenes but no THC.
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There’s no scientific evidence showing that CBD can help with shingles. Anecdotal accounts of people using CBD to help treat shingles exist, but they’re not supported by the current literature.

An article published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research suggests that CBD may potentially treat viral infections like hepatitis C. However, there’s currently not enough clinical evidence to confirm this hypothesis.

That said, there is evidence that CBD may help reduce pain and inflammation — two major symptoms of shingles.

If you have shingles, we recommend consistently following your doctor-prescribed treatment plan.

There’s no hepatitis C vaccine currently available, but treatment options can help prevent future complications. They can also help reduce the viral load to the point that the infection is no longer detected with lab tests. Healthcare professionals refer to this as remission or cured.

The following medications can help clear up a shingles infection and reduce symptoms:

Delaying or avoiding treatment can lead to shingles complications such as nerve damage, which can cause long-lasting nerve pain.

A 2018 review of studies suggests that cannabis-based medications may help people with chronic nerve pain. Ultimately, more research is needed to better understand the connection between chronic nerve pain reduction and cannabis-based medications.

While CBD is not a replacement for standard treatment options, it’s probably OK to try CBD for shingles, despite the lack of scientific evidence. Just make sure to talk with your doctor first, especially if you’re taking any medications or supplements. CBD may interact with some medications.

Topicals are less likely than ingested products to make their way into your bloodstream, but it’s still best to be cautious and follow your doctor’s recommendation.

Additionally, be sure that you’re aware of potential side effects. While studies suggest that CBD is generally safe to use topically or orally, some people may experience mild side effects such as:

  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • weight or appetite changes

It’s possible to receive a positive test result for THC when taking CBD products, especially full-spectrum CBD products.

We chose these products based on criteria we think are good indicators of safety, quality, and transparency. Each product in this article:

  • is made by a company that provides proof of third-party testing by an ISO 17025-compliant lab
  • is made with U.S.-grown hemp
  • contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, according to the certificate of analysis (COA)
  • passes tests for pesticides, heavy metals, and molds, according to the COA

We also considered:

  • company certifications and manufacturing processes
  • product potency
  • overall ingredients
  • indicators of user trust and brand reputation, such as:
    • customer reviews
    • whether the company has been subject to an FDA warning letter
    • whether the company makes any unsupported health claims

Note: Our approach is to recommend products that we believe are high quality. None of the products listed below have added ingredients that make them better than others for treating shingles.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $30
  • $$ = $30–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

Best CBD oil for shingles

CBDistillery Relief + Relax CBD Oil

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 5,000 mg per 30-milliliter (mL) bottle
  • COA: available on product page in image slideshow

If you’re looking for a high-potency CBD oil, this one from CBDistillery may be a good option. It’s made with only three ingredients: non-GMO full-spectrum hemp, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, and natural terpenes.

The oil is highly reviewed by customers, with users saying the oil works well and tastes better than other options. (Unflavored CBD oils can have a somewhat earthy taste.)

CBDistillery products come with a 60-day guarantee.

Best CBD salve for shingles

Joy Organics Premium CBD Salve Stick

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 250 mg per 15-mL stick
  • COA: available on product page

If you’d rather try a topical product, this salve stick from Joy Organics is an excellent option. The small tube is easy to use on the go. It’s also unscented, making it a perfect choice for people with odor sensitivities. The formula contains a skin-soothing blend of organic jojoba and sunflower seed oils, as well as shea butter.

Joy Organics also claims to produce cruelty-free products and is part of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable.

The company offers free shipping — that also happens to be carbon-neutral — and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Best CBD lotion for shingles

Lazarus Naturals Fragrance-Free CBD Body Lotion

  • Price: $
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 1,500 mg per 75-mL tube
  • COA: available online

This moisturizing lotion contains skin-friendly ingredients, including vitamin E, jojoba oil, and organic mango butter. It’s available in two scents: Pacific pine and Portland rose. Or if you prefer, you can opt for the fragrance-free version.

Lazarus Naturals offers an assistance program for people with long-term disabilities, veterans, and members of low- income households.

The lotion is a good choice if you’re looking for a gentle way to hydrate your skin and also want the added benefits of CBD.

Most CBD oils are meant to be taken by mouth. You’ll use the included dropper to place the oil under your tongue, and then hold it there for at least 30 seconds before swallowing. You can also add CBD oil to food, drinks, or beauty products like lotions and creams.

Most companies will feature a recommended dosage on the product label. But we recommend talking with your doctor to figure out the ideal dosage for you.

In general, it’s a good idea to start with a small dose to give yourself an idea of how your body reacts to CBD. You can increase the dose if you don’t experience any side effects.

To use topical CBD products, apply them directly to the skin and massage into the affected area. Perform a patch test before slathering on CBD cream or lotion to see if you have any reaction to the product — especially if you have sensitive skin.

When using topical products, try to avoid applying to areas with broken skin.

When shopping for CBD, there are a few easy ways to spot a quality product.

Look for products that are third-party tested

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate CBD products the same way they do pharmaceuticals. And while they can send warning letters and take action against companies making false claims or committing fraud, there’s otherwise no regulation for products containing CBD.

Look for companies that get their products third-party tested and make it easy for you to find and consult the COA before buying. Check that the details on the COA match the product labels and show info about contaminant testing.

Check the label for the product ingredients

Look for CBD products made from U.S.-grown hemp — ideally, that’s also organic. Scanning the ingredient list is even more important for topicals, especially if you’re allergic or sensitive to certain irritants.

Think about your needs

What else should you consider?

  • Potency. Start with a less potent product if you’re new to CBD. However, if you’re trying CBD for chronic pain, a higher potency product may be more helpful.
  • CBD type. Isolates are a great option if you’re interested in steering clear of THC and other cannabinoids. Broad-spectrum CBD provides the benefits of other cannabinoids but is THC-free. Full-spectrum products contain all the terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids from the cannabis plant, including tiny amounts of THC — no more than 0.3 percent. You will want to choose a pure isolate of CBD product to reduce the risk of testing positive for cannabis during any lab tests.
  • Topical or oral. You might consider a topical oil or cream to apply to the shingles rash directly. This is ideal for people who do not want to take an oral form of CBD.

There’s no evidence that CBD can help with shingles or other viral infections. Claims about CBD being helpful for shingles are purely anecdotal.

But it’s too early to discount CBD for shingles completely. Since research has shown that CBD may help reduce pain and inflammation, it’s possible that it can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with shingles.

There’s also limited evidence that CBD may help people with chronic nerve pain.

Overall, more research is needed to understand the potential benefits of CBD for shingles infections.

If you decide to try CBD for shingles, be sure to speak with your doctor first, especially if you take medications or supplements.

Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.

Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.