Migraine is a painful and disruptive condition. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) says 5.6% of men and a staggering 17.1% of women experience migraines. For most people, episodes are occasional. But a small percentage live with these intense headaches almost daily.
Migraines also lead to other complications. According to the American Migraine Foundation, these headaches dramatically impact the daily lives of chronic migraine patients – individuals who deal with migraine headaches for at least 15 days per month.
Thankfully, chronic migraine only affects about 1% of the U.S. population. But for that 1%, the condition brings a slew of other complications, like depression and anxiety. This condition inevitably leads to lost work (and income) or missing school, dramatically restricting patients’ daily lives.
CBD oil for migraine headaches has gained traction since the first supplements hit the market. Prescription solutions are available with drugs like NSAIDs, but these often come with side effects that only compound the existing problem.
How CBD oil helps (if at all) is still unclear. However, preliminary evidence and mounds of anecdotes paint a hopeful picture.
So does CBD oil help relieve or control chronic migraine? Let’s take a look.
How CBD May Help Treat Migraines
Studies on CBD oil for migraines are virtually non-existent. Ironically, the largest body of evidence long predates the scientific method. Cannabis has been a standard treatment for headaches for thousands of years.
What little modern research we have focuses either on THC or a combination of THC and CBD. Therefore, we can only infer how – if at all – CBD alone might help.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We may not have much research specifically addressing CBD and migraine headaches, but many of the symptoms or triggers – like stress and pain – have received a lot of mainstream attention.
How CBD Works
Before addressing the potential medical benefits, it’s essential to understand how CBD works. Our bodies rely on a specialized network of receptors and endocannabinoids – cannabinoids produced inside the body.
External cannabinoids (called “phytocannabinoids”) like THC and CBD interact or affect specific endocannabinoid system (ECS) receptors, labeled as CB1 and CB2. The former primarily exists in the central nervous system, while the latter is mainly concentrated elsewhere, including the immune, digestive, reproductive, and musculoskeletal systems.
Some cannabinoids, like THC, bind to both receptors, while others bind to one or the other in varying degrees. CBD, however, doesn’t have an affinity for the CB1 or CB2. Instead, it works through different receptor pathways, such as the serotonin, GABA, and TRPV1 (vanilloid) receptors – among others.
Although those receptors aren’t part of the ECS, they still modulate several functions, including mood and pain – two key triggers and symptoms in migraine patients.
Interestingly, CBD still impacts the CB1 and CB2 receptors. But rather than just binding directly, it alters their shape through the pathways we just covered. This restructuring affects how CB1 and CB2 interact with endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
For instance, when CBD changes the CB1 receptors, it mutes their ability to bind with THC. As a result, taking CBD with THC helps reduce the duration and intensity of a “high.” CBD can also be an effective countermeasure against the effects of THC, should you accidentally consume too much.
CBD’s effects on different receptor pathways and cannabinoids could hold the key to naturally treating migraine headaches and other headache disorders without psychoactive properties.
What Studies Say About CBD and Migraines
Again, few studies exist on CBD oil for migraines. More research is desperately needed on high-quality CBD oil products before healthcare professionals recommend them for migraine attacks or chronic migraine pain.
One piece of considerable research is a 2018 study by Hitchcock et al. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. This online survey-based study looked at 589 participants referred to as “migraineurs.”
Based on their responses, 161 suffered from chronic migraine attacks, some of whom had a daily migraine headache frequency.
Of those migraine patients, 76% say they use cannabis specifically for migraine pain. However, 86% also used prescription drugs to control their conditions.
However, the performance of conventional drugs showed surprising results compared to the balanced medical marijuana used in the study.
A staggering 75.82% said that cannabis offered better migraine pain relief than regular medicine.
However, keep in mind that the study in question involved strains containing CBD and THC, making it difficult for us to say if CBD, THC, or both were a factor.
A 2017 study by the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology also looked at CBD’s potential effects on migraine and cluster headaches.
Researchers chose oils with either a balanced ratio of THC and CBD or 9% CBD with no THC. Participants reported better results with the balanced CBD oil than with its THC-free counterpart.
Participants also used amitriptyline – a mood stabilizer that also helps treat migraine – and compared its efficacy with cannabis. The results were nearly 50/50, with 40.1% reporting a better reduction in migraine attacks from amitriptyline and 40.4% favoring cannabis.
Additionally, candidates reported a 43.4% reduction in migraine pain intensity with cannabis.
Is CBD Effective for Migraine Prophylaxis?
CBD may be effective for migraine prophylaxis. “Prophylaxis” refers to the daily administration of drugs or other compounds to control a condition or symptom(s).
When it comes to health, prevention is always the best approach. Whether it’s CBD oil or prescription drugs, there are potential ways to stop or reduce the frequency of migraine episodes.
As we saw in the 2017 study earlier, CBD oil or other oral forms of CBD could reduce migraine headache pain and frequency. A 2018 survey study published in the academic journal Cephalalgia revealed similar results.
The survey involved 105 subjects. Out of those, 15 reported having chronic pain from daily migraine headaches. However, by the end of the 30-day study, five of the 15 patients said they were no longer experiencing daily headaches – a 33% drop.
Unfortunately, we lack large-scale studies on CBD and migraine prophylaxis. But based on what we see so far, there may be potential.
What Experts Say
Initially, the medical community was rather hostile to cannabis. It still is in many respects. But while THC is still controversial for most doctors, health professionals seem more receptive to CBD.
Granted, there will always be naysayers out there, but the following experts are – as expected – cautiously optimistic.
Dr. Stephen Silberstein is the director of the Headache Center at Jefferson University Hospital. He’s one of many specialists who took an interest in the potential for CBD to relieve migraine headaches in chronic migraine sufferers.
In an interview with the American Headache Society, Silberstein admits that we don’t have a lot of evidence whether full-spectrum CBD oil, CBD isolate, or any other form of medical cannabis work for migraine pain.
“There is very little evidence that any of the components of marijuana are effective for the treatment of migraine and headache disorders,” he says. “That does not mean they do not work, however. What it means is that they have not been studied.”
Dr. Nathaniel Schuster is another expert taking an active role in CBD research for migraine treatment. As a neurologist specializing in headache and pain at UC San Diego, he’s currently recruiting participants for an upcoming study of vaped CBD on migraine pain. The study is expected to be complete by November of 2023.
One of our writers had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Schuster in 2019. Schuster initially became interested when working with children who used CBD to treat severe epilepsy.
However, Dr. Schuster suggests vaping. Admittedly, the effects are virtually immediate but last a fraction of the time compared to CBD oil. Schuster also mentions that migraines slow digestion, which could impact the efficacy of oral CBD. Regardless, many patients swear by the effects of CBD oils for migraine.
As for his opinion on CBD, Dr. Schuster echoes Dr. Silberstein’s cautious approach. “The medical evidence for CBD, outside of two rare pediatric epilepsy disorders, is sparse,” he warns. “So some people are surely using CBD for medical conditions for which future research studies will show that CBD is no better than placebo.”
Schuster is also concerned about CBD being marketed as a “cure-all,” especially by companies who (illegally) push that narrative. CBD’s reportedly effective treatment for migraine, chronic pain, muscle pain, mood, digestion, nausea, and immune support – among many others – isn’t fully backed by peer-reviewed studies or other cannabis science (yet).
Ultimately, if we could sum up the medical community’s answer to “does CBD work for migraine,” the answer is a resounding “maybe.”
What Patients Who Take CBD Oil for Migraines Say
Peer-reviewed studies may not be easy to find, but there’s an endless amount of anecdotes to at least partially compensate.
Keep in mind that “hemp”-derived CBD products or “marijuana”-derived CBD products are still a mystery, so speak with your healthcare provider before using cannabis plant products.
Now, let’s hear about CBD straight from the source.
According to “Glen” – a participant in the 2018 survey study we mentioned earlier – CBD helped him reduce his dependence on prescription medication and provided excellent results for pain control:
“What a change CBD oil has made: no more carbamazepine or hydrocodone, and only half the gabapentin—and far better pain control. Pain breakthroughs still happen, but another squirt of [CBD oil], and the pain is gone within 15 minutes. I have no side effects.”
Another participant, who preferred to remain anonymous, also provided positive feedback:
“[CBD] has significantly helped with my chronic migraines. If taken at onset, I can rely on it to take the edge off relatively quickly.”
How to Use CBD Oil for Migraines?
It’s easy to use CBD oil for migraines. But first, you need to find high-quality CBD oil from a reputable vendor.
Find a source that uses naturally-grown industrial hemp, has a solid online presence, and conducts third-party tests with their results readily available.
How much CBD to Take for Migraines?
A significant downside to dosing CBD is that – at least for now – there’s no official formula. Everyone’s body is different and will respond differently to CBD. Some may require a low dose, others need more, while a percentage may not feel affected.
But when you begin, it’s imperative to follow the “start low and go slow” approach. Begin with around 2-5 mg of CBD and gradually increase as needed over several days. Eventually, you’ll notice the effects, at which point you should stay at that dose. It’s possible to develop a tolerance, though, so you may need to increase later.
Also, consider that CBD may take time to build up in your system, so it may take days or even weeks to notice results – even at the correct dose.
Can CBD Help Mitigate Other Headaches?
CBD could help mitigate other headaches. CBD’s ability to relieve pain is well-supported by preliminary and anecdotal evidence. If nonprescription CBD products work as migraine treatments, it’s not a stretch to assume other headaches may respond similarly.
Only more research will tell us if CBD is an effective treatment for migraine or other headaches.
Can CBD Get You High?
No, CBD can’t get you high. Unlike THC, CBD has no intoxicating properties. This difference makes CBD oils particularly appealing to migraine patients, especially since some think it outperforms prescription medications.
The most significant advantage of CBD is that its non-psychotropic effects mean individuals can medicate at any time and still carry out daily functions, like driving and working.
For more information on the overall CBD experience, check out our comprehensive article about what CBD feels like.
Does CBD Have Side Effects?
Yes, CBD does have side effects. Fortunately, they’re rare and mild.
Consumers who use CBD may notice the following side effects:
- Appetite changes
- Dry mouth
In some cases, CBD may affect the liver’s ability to metabolize certain medications. Drugs that can’t be consumed with grapefruit (as per the warning labels) should not be mixed with CBD.
Many medications may experience this issue with cannabidiol, so you must consult with your healthcare professional about CBD, especially if you use prescription drugs.
Summary: CBD for Migraines
CBD oil or other medical marijuana variations have a long history of treating headaches and other symptoms. The fact that this medical practice survived thousands of years is a testimony to cannabis’ exceptional potential healing properties.
But the modern standard of evidence is a lot stricter than our ancestors, and the sad thing is that we don’t have much – if anything – to meet that required standard.
Consequently, it’s impossible to safely say CBD oil can help treat migraines. Only peer-reviewed studies and other research will tell us for sure. Thankfully – as we saw – there is research in the works. And while it may be some time before these new studies are published, it’s still better late than never.
American Headache Society. (2019, May 6). Migraine and CBD Oil: Doctor Q&A With Stephen Silberstein, MD | AHS. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://americanheadachesociety.org/news/migraine-and-cbd-oil-doctor-qa-with-stephen-silberstein-md-facp-fahs/
Baron, E. P., Lucas, P., Eades, J., & Hogue, O. (2018). Patterns of medicinal cannabis use, strain analysis, and substitution effect among patients with migraine, headache, arthritis, and chronic pain in a medicinal cannabis cohort. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-018-0862-2
EAN ANNUAL CONGRESS 2017. (2017, June 24). European Academy of Neurology. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://emj.emg-health.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/08/EAN-Congress-Review.pdf
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