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Cannabis – a solution to herpes?

New research suggests that the herpes virus may be treatable with marijuana. Cannabis topicals have soared in popularity since the cannabinoids produce different effects then when inhaled or consumed orally. The skin-healing qualities of cannabis compounds can help the body to heal from outbreaks of psoriasis, eczema and acne. But more on cannabis and herpes.

Understanding herpes

Several human ailments are causes by viruses that come under the herpes umbrella – including cold sores, chickenpox, genital herpes and shingles. Epstein-Barr, which is responsible for mononucleosis, is a herpes virus. Patients with these conditions always have the virus with them – most of the time, the body can manage it.

But if the immune system is suppressed, symptoms can quickly develop. This explains why herpes-related outbreaks such as cold sores often come about during stressful periods. Stress is caused by cortisol, an immune system suppressant. There are many herpes viruses, but herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 are more common than most.

Common cold sores come under herpes simplex 1 and can be picked up when the virus comes in contact with skin. Herpes simplex 2 covers the sexually transmitted infection genital herpes, where sores pop up on the genitals. Wherever you get herpes sores, they are going to be painful. Mere pain in unassuming areas is often preferable to sores in embarrassing places.

Over the years, scientists have come up with treatments for Epstein-Barr and chickenpox that have proven relatively effective. A trio of drugs, valacyclovir (Valtrex), famciclovir (Famvir) and acyclovir (Zovirax) are prescribed to treat sores on the upper-body and genitals.

Side effects from these drugs are uncommon, but any side effects which do emerge are typically severe. Acyclovir use has been linked to hallucinations and mental disorders. However, there are other less-threatening symptoms from these drugs, such as headaches, diarrhoea and nausea.

Can you treat herpes with marijuana?

It seems nowadays that all patients taking strong prescription drugs are looking out for less aggressive, natural treatments. And those with herpes viruses are no exceptions. Thankfully, it appears that cannabinoids can be beneficial, with pre-clinical studies showing that marijuana can reduce the severity of outbreaks.

There is, admittedly, a lack of high-quality research, which would require double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized testing among a large group of participants. However, from the studies that are available, we can safely say that it’s worth investigating the potential of cannabis products and cannabinoids further in treating herpes.

Treating herpes with marijuana is hardly a new concept – the first study on the topic was published back in 1980. The research involved testing on in vitro cells, human cells grown outside of the body. One group of cells was infected with herpes simplex 1 (HVS-1), while the others were given herpes simplex 2 (HVS-2). The psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was used to treat the infected cells.

Both the HVS-1 and HVS-2 groups stopped replicating infected cells following THC treatment. Additional studies were conducted in 1991 and 2004, producing similarly hopeful data.

The 1991 study concentrated on genital herpes, with scientists confirming that THC tackled infections given to in vitro cells. The research showed that THC could act as a herpes suppressant. In 2004, THC once again showed an ability to stop replication of herpes-infected in vitro cells.

Six years later, a human trial – perhaps the most important on the topic yet – investigated the efficacious of synthetic cannabinoids at treating postherpetic neuralgia when administered in topical form – in this scenario, a facial cream. This painful condition has been connected to shingles, which we know is caused by the herpes zoster virus. The study of eight participants threw up some encouraging data, with five patients reporting an 87.8 percent decrease in pain.

Moreover, there were no significant side effects to this cannabinoid-infused treatment, with all participants tolerating the cream well.

Final thoughts

From the limited studies available, we can be somewhat confident that cannabinoid drugs have a role to play in treating the herpes virus. Next, we need to see more clinical human trials of other herpes viruses – this will allow us to see whether cannabis is an all-encompassing treatment, or just helpful for specific herpes conditions. But it’s definitely food for thought for scientists and doctors.

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