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?
” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />
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.
CBD oil and migraines
Copy article link to clipboard.
Link copied to clipboard.
- Research overview
- The studies
- Patient perspectives
- What the experts say
- Bottom line
Migraines can be profoundly debilitating, with migraine sufferers often experiencing additional troubling symptoms such as nausea and light sensitivity. An estimated 15% of individuals globally suffer from migraines. In the U.S., head pain is the fifth-leading cause of emergency room visits.
Current research indicates that migraines occur when the threshold for pain signaling drops in response to inflammatory agents. Environmental and hormonal triggers most likely initiate the onset of a migraine. Migraine medication often provokes adverse effects, which has resulted in a reduction of research into migraine drugs.
CBD’s analgesic effects, anti-inflammatory properties, and anti-emetic qualities may help relieve the pain and nausea associated with migraines. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Given this context, many migraine sufferers are receptive to new treatments that promise to help manage migraine pain. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has recently captured the attention of scientists and patients alike. CBD’s analgesic effects, anti-inflammatory properties, and anti-nausea qualities may help relieve the symptoms associated with the condition.
While there are still no clinical studies exploring the efficacy of CBD oil as a treatment for migraines, several scholarly reviews and studies point to the importance of modulating the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the use of cannabinoids such as CBD as a potential therapy.
Endocannabinoid receptors are found in the pain processing areas of the brain. “Anandamide (an endocannabinoid) has been shown to target some of the same signaling pathways as triptans, a class of medications primarily used in the treatment of migraines and cluster headaches. This supports the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in the treatment of migraine,” explained Rosalia Yoon, a cannabis research scientist for Toronto-based Apollo Cannabis Clinics, which advises patients and conducts studies on medical marijuana.
CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain in animal models by targeting specific receptors within the endocannabinoid system.
A 2019 review published in “Current Opinion in Neurology” suggests that CBD may have a role to play in alleviating the pain associated with migraines. CBD can affect the function and activity of signaling pathways by targeting the receptors that play a role in pain control.
The review also points out that CBD can suppress the release of certain proteins, which are linked to inflammatory pain and modulate the immune cell system. The modulation of the ECS with cannabinoids could offer a tolerable and pharmacologically sound treatment for migraines; however, the study’s authors expressed the need for further studies to explore the mechanisms by which this occurs.
Another 2016 review published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research proposed the idea that migraines may be caused, in part, by a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
There is clinical evidence that suggests this hypothesis could hold validity. A 2007 study published in the journal “Neuropsychopharmacology” showed evidence of depressed anandamide levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of migraine sufferers. Low anandamide levels are a possible indication of an impaired ECS. These findings point to cannabinoids as a potential therapy for chronic migraine sufferers.
According to Dr. Ethan Russo, author of the study in “Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research,” randomized, controlled trials utilizing standardized preparations with low THC and high CBD are long overdue. There is already preclinical evidence that THC can ameliorate migraine pain, according to the “European Journal of Pharmacology.”
Shelly Schneider, 39, is the president of a busy CBD e-commerce store and a mother. She first began to experience migraines while she was in college in 2003, which she attributes to ongoing stress and tension.
“When I get a migraine, it takes me out for the day. I need a heat pad and a dark, quiet room. Then I need to sleep it off. It makes me nauseated and makes my entire head throb,” she said.
Schneider had traditionally relied on Tylenol to help manage her migraines. She began taking CBD oil for cholesterol but realized it was also alleviating her migraines. “When I realized it was also helping with my migraines, I was sold,” she told Weedmaps News.
Some people anecdotally report that CBD oil helps with migraine prevention. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Schneider said CBD oil also helps with migraine prevention. “Since CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, it helps with the tension and prevents the migraines from getting as bad if I do get one. They are also much less frequent.”
Schneider notes that her anxiety has diminished, and endometriosis pain is improved, benefits she also attributes to CBD oil.
What the experts say
Dr. Stephen Silberstein, Director of the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia, recommends CBD oil for his migraine patients. Among its benefits, Silberstein points out that it is non-intoxicating, non-sedating, reduces anxiety, and doesn’t reinforce cravings or compulsive use.
“We use CBD topically in the area of the neck with good results. We’re uncertain as to the benefit of CBD taken orally for migraines, however.” This may be because CBD ingested orally has limited bioavailability.
Dr. Steven Zodkoy, a medical consultant at Monmouth Advanced Medicine, a New Jersey chiropractic clinic, noted that his chronic migraine patients use CBD in a preventative capacity. Zodkoy said that CBD helps to mediate their overall stress level, which is helpful as migraine patients often become fearful of triggering an episode. “Physiologically, CBD has a relaxing effect on the body, which makes it more pliable to adjust to stress. I have been using full-spectrum hemp products/CBD with my migraine patients for a few years with excellent results.”
Studies suggest that CBD and cannabis are at least as good as common migraine preventive medications, without the side effects. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD may be a potential first-line or adjunct treatment for migraines. But randomized, controlled trials are needed to determine CBD’s efficacies, and to develop dosage recommendations.
CBD oil and migraines Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Research overview The studies Patient perspectives What the experts say