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Can CBD Oil Treat a Migraine?

Nicholas R. Metrus, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and neuro-oncologist. He currently serves at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center in Summit, New Jersey.

With the laws governing the legal use of medical marijuana beginning to loosen up, there’s quite a bit of focus on the use of CBD oil—a component of the marijuana plant—for treating everything from arthritis to chronic pain, including migraines. But what is CBD oil, and does it really work to relieve migraine headaches?

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Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of over 100 different substances found in the the Cannabis sativa plant. The portion of the cannabis plant that produces a high (the psychotropic effect) is called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Depending on how it’s processed, CBD oil contains very little (or is completely void of) THC.  

Due to the pervasiveness and debilitating effects of migraine headaches, there’s been a lot of clinical research aimed at trying to find an effective treatment to minimize the frequency of migraines and alleviate the pain.

Medical experts currently consider the pain from a migraine headache the result of intense stimulation to sensory nerves—a response to inflammatory agents which are released when a migraine occurs. This would explain why powerful analgesic and anti-inflammatory agents, such as CBD oil, may be effective in the treatment of migraines.  

Properties of CBD Oil That Relieve Migraine

  • Potent analgesic (pain relieving) properties
  • Antiemetic (preventing nausea and vomiting) properties
  • Powerful anti-inflammatory effects  

CBD oil has gotten a lot of attention for its powerful pain-relieving properties, particularly since cannabis use is becoming legal in many states (33 as of October 2019, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but details vary). In June 2018, the FDA approved CBD for the first time for a new seizure medication called Epidiolex (cannabidiol) [CBD] oral solution.

Research

According to a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacy, while there are many experts who advocate for the use of CBD oil for migraines, there is still not enough evidence to prove that treatment will CBD oil will be completely effective for alleviating migraine headaches.

The researchers add that given time, as the legalities around medical marijuana and CBD oil change, more research may be able to show that CBD oil works well enough and consistently enough to treat migraines.

“Cannabinoids—due to their anticonvulsive, analgesic, antiemetic, and anti-inflammatory effects —present a promising class of compounds for both acute [short-term, severe] and prophylactic [preventative] treatment of migraine pain,” explained lead study author Pinja Leimuranta, of the University of Eastern Finland. Although the researchers say that we are not completely there yet, they add that CBD oil can “absolutely help relieve some symptoms related to migraines.”  

While few clinical research studies have examined the use of CBD to treat migraines, a 2016 study, published in Pharmacotherapy, found that the frequency of migraines was reduced from nearly 10 per month to only approximately four per month in a group of medical marijuana users.   Research presented in 2017 at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology showed that cannabinoids might help prevent migraines as well as easing the pain of migraine headache.

Additionally, a 2017 review of cannabis treatment for headaches outlined existing research, patient surveys, and case reports showing the efficacy of cannabis for migraine and other headache disorders.   A 2018 review described experimental evidence for the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of migraine as well as other headaches and chronic pain.

Uses and Safety

Previous research studies have shown that CBD oil, unlike THC, does not cause a euphoric high or psychotropic effects, and is typically less controversial and safer for medicinal use. CBD oil has been shown, in a limited number of studies, to be effective in the treatment of many disorders, including diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and migraines.  

The type of cannabis that CBD is composed of is well tolerated and safe in humans. In one study, when cannabis with THC was given to study subjects, they experienced an increased heart rate, anxiety, and psychotic symptoms. However, participants who took CBD oil—lacking THC—did not experience side effects (including psychotic symptoms).  

Should You Use It?

Anyone considering the use of CBD oil for migraines should consult with their healthcare provider before taking it. It’s important to note that not all sources of the product are reputable.

Prescription drugs with CBD do not have any THC at all. But many over-the-counter CBD oil products, such as those sold online, contain trace amounts of THC.  

Another important action step to take before deciding to use CBD oil is to check to ensure that it is legal in your home state. Many states still consider even the prescribed use of CBD oil illegal, due to its link to marijuana. And the FDA has not approved any CBD products (prescription or over-the-counter), aside from Epidiolex.

This certainly does not indicate that people with migraines should stop searching for an effective treatment to alleviate pain and discomfort, nor should they give up hope. There are many proven effective solutions available for those who suffer from migraine headaches.

Find out what the most recent research says about the safety and effectiveness of CBD oil for migraines.

Migraine and CBD Oil

CBD oil in dropper

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Dr. Stephen Silberstein outlines what patients should know about CBD oil as treatment for migraine

Cannabidiol has taken the U.S. by storm recently. Commonly known as CBD, the active ingredient found in the cannabis, or marijuana, plant, is becoming increasingly available through online retailers, with claims of pain and inflammation reduction. And those living with migraine have taken notice.

In an effort to understand the benefits and risks of using CBD oil for migraine, we recently spoke with Dr. Stephen Silberstein, director of the Headache Center at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

The Effects of CBD

Unlike THC, another widely known derivative of the cannabis plant, CBD oil does not have psychoactive properties or effects. “It works locally, and even if taken orally, it won’t produce intoxication,” says Dr. Silberstein.

There is no scientific evidence or research on CBD as an effective treatment for migraine—in large part because it has not been formally studied. However, it may still be a viable topical option for some patients with joint and muscle pain associated with migraine. “If you have a lot of neck pain or soreness, it is perfectly reasonable to use CBD oil. It may even prevent nausea and vomiting,” Dr. Silberstein says.

Despite the fact that CBD oil does not elicit the same response as marijuana, it is not legal in all 50 states. So one side-effect could be the legal ramifications of partaking in using CBD oil in a state where it is not permitted by law. To determine if it is legal in the state where you reside, visit Americans for Safe Access.

Lack of Regulation

For patients interested in CBD oil for the acute treatment of migraine, Dr. Silberstein says it is important to ensure that you are using a pure product. You are likely to receive a pure and safe product in states where CBD oil is legal and grown. Local dispensaries will also be of use in determining origin and quality.

Dr. Silberstein advises against obtaining a product in states in which CBD oil is not currently legal or regulated. Illegal forms of CBD oil could be spiked with artificial THC which could be very harmful to patients. Additionally, there are legal implications if you attempt to purchase it where it is currently illegal, so it is important to speak with your healthcare provider and check your local and state laws.

Consult a Physician

Before beginning any treatment, it is important that you consult your healthcare provider and be open and honest about your plans. Having a strong doctor-patient relationship is key to establishing trust and determining an effective treatment plan that takes into account your lifestyle. “These drugs do interact with the body,” Dr. Silberstein says. “If you’re getting funny symptoms and you’re taking something that the doctor doesn’t know about, how’s he going to help you?”

Dr. Silberstein also cautions against CBD oil or marijuana in use in adolescents, as it may affect the developing brain. “In general, it should be avoided by adolescents until more research has been conducted,” he adds.

For more information on treatments for migraine, visit our doctor-verified resource library. You can also use our find a doctor tool to find a headache specialist in your area.

Dr. Stephen Silberstein outlines what patients should know about CBD oil as a treatment for migraine, including effects and regulations.