According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 3.7 billion people below the age of 50 have HSV-1, more commonly referred to as cold sores. Another 417 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with HSV-2, which is typically considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, 140 million people get genital infections from HSV-1, those pesky cold sores you may have had in or around your mouth, meaning that half a billion people could sexually transmit either virus.
The CDC defines genital herpes as, “a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2).” So, very clearly, you can become infected with herpes from cold sores or susception to the STD itself.
Raquel Dardik, MD, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Langone’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, states, “Many people wrongfully believe that cold sores don’t count as ‘real’ herpes.” It’s important to note that although their symptoms typically manifest differently, HSV-1 in the mouth and HSV-2 around the genitals, all it takes to transfer the infection is skin-to-skin contact. In other words, the sores from both viruses can form anywhere on your body.
Could cannabis be a solution? Using cannabis to treat herpes has been the subject of debate for quite a while. For example a study published in 1980 treated human cells in vitro with THC. The cells were infected with either herpes simplex 1 (HVS-1) or herpes simplex 2 (HVS-2) and after they were treated with THC, both types of the herpes virus stopped replicating. The same results were reported in multiple other research papers. For example, a 1991 study found that THC reduced the infectivity of the genital herpes virus in cells in vitro (outside the body) potentially suppressing the disease.
A 2004 study also found that THC treatment reduced the replication of the herpes family viruses in vitro.
A small human trial from 2010 tested a facial cream containing synthetic cannabinoids against postherpetic neuralgia, which is a pain condition associated with shingles caused by the herpes zoster virus. The cannabinoid worked, which was evident by five of eight participants experiencing an average pain reduction of 87.8%.
Obviously, more evidence and human trials are needed, but like with several other diseases, cannabis shows great promise.