Herpes Virus – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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The herpes virus is a common, incurable, and highly contagious virus that can cause painful outbreaks of lesions around the mouth or the genital area. Research suggests that cannabis reduces the viability of the virus and helps prevent its transmission.

Overview of Herpes Virus

The herpes simplex virus, most commonly referred to as herpes or HSV, is an infection that causes herpes. Herpes is categorized into two separate types, including oral herpes (herpes type 1), which is associated with tender sores around the mouth and lips, and genital herpes (herpes type 2), which is associated with sores around the genitals or rectum.  

People with herpes often go through periods of the virus being dormant. Outbreaks have a tendency to be brought on by menstruation, fatigue, stress, immunosuppression, sun exposure, and general illness.

In addition to painful sores, herpes can cause pain during urination (genital herpes) and itching. Additionally, during an outbreak a person can experience symptoms similar to the flu: including fever, headache, fatigue, a lack of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes.

Oral herpes is transmitted through either oral secretion when kissing or sharing of objects like toothbrushes, lip balm, drinking cups, or food utensils. Genital herpes is transmitted through sexual conduct. Both types of herpes can be transmitted when the virus is dormant and there are no signs of the disease. Children can contact herpes from an infected adult.

While anyone can become infected with the herpes virus, the risk of becoming infected is associated with exposure to the infection. People who have multiple sex partners or have sex without condoms are at a greater risk.

There is no cure for herpes. People infected with the herpes virus will have it for the rest of their lives. The focus of treatment is on relieving the symptoms associated with the virus. Medications can help manage the pain caused by the sores, can shorten healing time and can reduce the incidence of outbreaks. Warm baths help with the pain from genital sores.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Herpes Virus

While research into cannabis’s effects on Herpes Virus is limited, some preliminary findings are promising. Research indicates that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the well known psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, can modulate the body’s immune response and its T-cells to effectively counter the herpes virus and prevent it from replicating and spreading (Blevins & Dumic, 1980). One study found that THC inactivated the herpes virus and made it much less “ineffective” by causing an 80 percent decrease in its viability (Lancz, Spector & Brown, 1991). Another showed it helped inhibit the spread of the virus by specifically targeting the viral and cellular mechanisms required for its transmission (Medveczky, et al., 2004).

While a handful of early studies have found evidence that THC suppresses the immune system and subsequently decreases resistance to herpes type 2, a more recent review suggests that “suppression of T-cells may lead to reduced immune responses necessary to control the infection” (Mishkin & Cabral, 1985) (Cabral, McNerney & Mishkin, 1986).

As of now, evidence suggests that THC suppresses the replication of the herpes virus. More research needs to be done on the other potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis on the herpes virus, as well as whether other cannabinoids that may possess similar anti-viral benefits.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Herpes Virus

No states have specifically approved medical marijuana for the treatment of the herpes virus.

Some states will, however, consider other conditions and may approve medical marijuana for herpes virus. In California, “any debilitating disease where medical marijuana recommended by physician.” In Connecticut, “other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection.” Massachusetts will approve “other conditions as determined in writing by physician.” The state of Washington allows medical marijuana for “any terminal or debilitating condition.” In NevadaOregon, and Rhode Island, “other conditions subject to approval.” Additionally, Washington D.C. allows medical marijuana to be used for any debilitating condition as recommended by DC licensed doctor.

Several states will have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of pain, a symptom commonly associated with the herpes virus. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The states of Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio and Vermont allow medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia have approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Herpes Virus

  • THC prevented herpes virus 1 and herpes virus 2 from spreading to human cells. 
    The effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on herpes simplex virus replication. 
  • THC targets the viral and cellular mechanisms necessary for the herpes virus to transmit, thereby inhibiting it from spreading. 
    Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lytic replication of gamma oncogenic herpesviruses in vitro. 


  1. Blevins, R.D., and Dumic, M.P. (1980, August). The effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on herpes simplex virus replication. The Journal of General Virology, 49(2), 427-31. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/ac0zCu.
  2. Cabral, G.A., McNerney, P.J., and Mishkin, E.M. (1986, September). Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol enhances release of herpes simplex virus type 2. The Journal of General Virology, 67 (Pt 9), 207-22. Retrieved from http://www.microbiologyresearch.org/docserver/fulltext/jgv/67/9/JV0670092017.pdf.
  3. Cannabis May Help Combat Cancer-causing Herpes Viruses. (2004, September 24). Science Daily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/09/040923092627.htm.
  4. Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. (2016, May 19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm.
  5. Genital Herpes Health Center. (n.d.) WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/genital-herpes/pain-management-herpes.
  6. Herpes Simplex. (2012, July 22). HealthLine. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/herpes-simplex#Overview1.
  7. Lancz, G., Spector, S., and Brown, H.K. (1991, April). Suppressive effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on herpes simplex virus infectivity in vitro. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 196(4), 401-4. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3181/00379727-196-43206.
  8. Medveczky, M. M., Sherwood, T. A., Klein, T. W., Friedman, H., & Medveczky, P. G. (2004). Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lytic replication of gamma oncogenic herpesviruses in vitro. BMC Medicine, 2, 34. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC521080/.
  9. Mishkin, E.M., and Cabral, G.A. (1985, December). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol decreases host resistance to herpes simples virus type 2 vaginal infection in the B6C3F1 mouse. The Journal of General Virology, 66(Pt 12), 2539-49. Retrieved from http://www.microbiologyresearch.org/docserver/fulltext/jgv/66/12/JV0660122539.pdf.
  • August 23, 2016
  • Eve Ripley