Can CBD Oil Treat a Migraine?
Nicholas R. Metrus, MD, is board-certified in neurology and neuro-oncology. He currently works at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center with Atlantic Health System 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.
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.
Can CBD oil help with migraine?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil may relieve pain and reduce inflammation — and some research suggests that CBD may help treat migraine.
A growing body of research suggests that CBD may help relieve pain, particularly neurological pain, linked with various conditions.
Specifically, CBD oil has promise as a treatment for migraine, as the American Migraine Foundation report. While they acknowledge that no scientific evidence proves that CBD is an effective treatment, they point out that this may be due to a general lack of formal research into CBD.
The foundation conclude that CBD “may still be a viable topical option for some patients with joint and muscle pain associated with migraine.”
Still, due to the lack of evidence that CBD is a safe or effective migraine treatment, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved it for this use or as a way to relieve any pain.
Below, we explore how CBD might benefit people with migraine and look into its effectiveness, safety, and legality.
CBD is one of more than 100 cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. It is different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the compound in cannabis that produces a high.
There is no evidence that CBD produces a high. It does have other effects in the body, which might include relieving pain and reducing inflammation.
CBD may ease pain because it affects specific receptors in the brain. These receptors are part of the wider endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in pain and inflammation throughout the body.
Research has linked medical cannabis with the following effects, which are relevant to migraine treatment:
- pain relief
- easing nausea
- reducing inflammation
- anticonvulsive effects
However, there has been very limited research into the safety and effectiveness of cannabis, or CBD specifically, for migraine — partly due to legal restrictions on research involving the cannabis plant.
In a 2017 review of studies , researchers noted that cannabis might help treat migraine.
Still, CBD oil may have different effects, and no research has shown that the oil can help treat migraine. Overall, more studies are necessary.
For more information and resources on CBD and CBD products, please visit our dedicated hub.
According to the National Centers for Complementary and Integrative Health, some evidence suggests that cannabis — and specifically CBD — could have modest benefits for chronic pain.
Likewise, a 2020 review has found that CBD can help relieve chronic pain, improve sleep, and reduce inflammation in some circumstances.
The results of a 2016 study indicate that medical cannabis may reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. The study did not investigate CBD specifically, however.
A 2018 review of the relevant research also reports that cannabis seems promising as a method of relieving pain, including pain from migraine.
A 2017 review concluded that there is enough anecdotal evidence and preliminary findings to warrant further research and high-quality clinical trials.
The bottom line is that more research is necessary. If CBD proves effective, researchers will then need to find the most effective dosages and formulations.
Meanwhile, researchers have explored whether cannabis compounds may treat chronic pain in people who have been taking opioids for long periods and want to reduce their use.
Authors of a 2009 study found evidence to support this, but a 2018 study found no link between the use of cannabis and reductions in pain or opioid use. However, the results of the latter study were based on participant-reported cannabis use, and most of this was not legal use.
Hemp and hemp-derived products with THC contents of less than 0.3% are legal under the 2018 Farm Bill.
However, the legal status of CBD and other cannabinoids varies by state. If a person in the United States is thinking of trying CBD, they can check their local laws here.
In June 2018, the FDA approved a purified CBD oil, which contains no THC, to treat two rare, severe types of epilepsy. The oil is only available with a prescription.
Over-the-counter CBD products do not have FDA approval. As a result, there is no way to ensure that they are safe or contain what the packaging advertises. If possible, speak with a doctor before using CBD.
A person can use CBD oil:
- as an ingredient in foods and drinks
- in capsule form
- in oral drops or sprays
- by inhaling or vaping it, though either can be dangerous
Meanwhile, researchers are investigating the potential benefits and legal and ethical implications of CBD in other forms, such as those that can be administered rectally, in the eye, or via the skin.
Because no definitive studies have investigated the effects of CBD oil on migraine in humans, there is no standard dosage or method of using the oil.
However, a doctor in an area where CBD oil is legal may be able to recommend a safe, low dosage to start with. Overall, it is best to start with a very low dosage and see whether it helps.
The FDA do not regulate over-the-counter CBD products like they regulate medications. These products may be mislabeled or misrepresent their contents. For this reason, it is important to research and find a quality product.
When it comes to CBD, one of the most significant risks concerns the lack of regulation.
The FDA have not approved any cannabis products, including CBD products, as migraine treatments.
In the U.S. there is no regulation over the potency or marketing of over-the-counter CBD oil. As a result, some CBD products have incorrect information on their labels. They may contain more or less CBD than advertised, and some contain significant amounts of the inhibiting psychoactive substance THC.
A healthcare provider is likely to recommend proven treatments and other approaches to care for someone with migraine.
Identifying and avoiding triggers can reduce the frequency of migraine episodes. This involves different things for different people, but it may look like:
- practicing stress management techniques
- avoiding bright lights
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and other dietary migraine triggers
- finding ways to get regular high-quality sleep
Also, while no one treatment plan works for everyone, various medications can reduce the frequency of migraine episodes and the intensity once they start.
Some approved migraine treatments include:
- over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as acetaminophen
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- prescription medications for migraine pain, such as triptans, ergots, and nerve blocks at the occipital region of the brain
- drugs that help prevent migraine episodes, including beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications
- Botox treatments
Many people try a few treatments before finding one that works. A person may benefit most from a combination of approaches.
Working closely with a healthcare provider and keeping track of the frequency and intensity of episodes can help determine the best treatment.
Anyone with migraine should speak with a doctor, who can make specific recommendations about the right approach to treatment.
It is particularly important to consult a doctor before trying CBD oil or any other natural remedies — some, including CBD, can have dangerous interactions.
Is CBD legal? Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally but still illegal under some state laws. Cannabis-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are illegal federally but legal under some state laws. Check local legislation, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may be inaccurately labeled.
Various websites recommend different kinds of cannabis to treat headaches. What would you recommend?
There has been some research into cannabis and migraine, but not enough to specifically recommend a potency, dosage, or frequency.
Someone with chronic migraine who wants to reduce reliance on medication might look into cannabis products, such as CBD oil.
But because there have been no specific studies, these recommendations found on websites are not based on science. These statements might reflect the experience of only one person, or someone might have created them from no evidence, as a marketing ploy.
Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Last medically reviewed on October 31, 2020
Research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) oil may help with pain. This article looks at CBD oil and migraine, including its effectiveness, safety, and legality.