Characterized by painful, blistering sores, the herpes simplex virus (HSV) is carried for life once infection takes place, although outbreaks may be rare or infrequent. Herpes is broken down into two simplex types: HSV 1 causes outbreaks on the mouth and lips while HSV 2 affects the genital areas.
Those living with herpes — which is actually one in six Americans aged 14 to 49, according to the CDC — have no cure at their fingertips and are limited to treating the outbreaks when they arise with chemical ointments and creams. But several studies over the last couple of decades have shown that cannabis is a potent ally for herpes sufferers and that topical medical marijuana might just be the best treatment available for the disease.
Cannabis Stops Herpes from Spreading
Viruses spread by replicating their DNA into other healthy cells, which can happen so fast we call something “going viral” when it spreads quickly. Back in 1980, a study published in the Journal of General Virology showed that 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was able to stop both types of the herpes virus from replicating and spreading. The researchers stated that THC acts as a potent antiviral against the illness, although the mechanism of action was not understood.
Similar findings were reported in a 1991 study that found that THC was able to suppress the viability of the herpes virus by 80 percent. The researcher claimed THC made the herpes virus much less “infective” and slowed its replication and spreading ability tremendously
In 2004, a study was conducted aimed at finding the mechanism responsible for the profound antiviral properties of THC. The findings revealed that the cannabinoid specifically targets the still not quite understood “viral and/or cellular mechanisms” that the herpes virus uses for replication, meaning cannabis fights herpes specifically at the cellular level.
Treating Herpes Topically with Cannabis
Topical medical marijuana oils are now widely available across the United States and can be used by herpes sufferers to treat their symptoms in a safe and natural way. Because THC and the other powerful cannabinoids in cannabis are extremely fat soluble, extracting them in oil is actually one of the best ways to preserve all of their medicinal properties.
When applied to the skin topically, cannabis oils or other cannabis-oil-infused products, such as lotions, ointments, balms, salves and even sprays, are able to act transdermally, penetrating the skin and taking action at the cellular level – where the herpes virus is active. Using medical marijuana in this way is not psychoactive and will not get you “high.”
Besides the specific action of THC stopping the spread of herpes, there are more great benefits of using cannabis topically to treat herpes. Other cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) present in the product have been shown to have strong pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. This can help mitigate some of the unpleasant symptoms of herpes outbreaks in terms of both pain and ugly, raised sores while the THC fights the disease at its root.
The Future of Cannabis Medicines for Herpes
Unfortunately, there is still just a small number of quality studies on cannabis and herpes, despite the promising results of the ones we have covered in this article. As medical marijuana continues to be legalized across the country, however, new investigations into its ability to limit the spread of herpes and innovative products designed to be used specifically for that purpose should be on the horizon.