The Migraine Research Foundation states that nearly one in four households in the United States includes someone who has migraines. About 85 percent of sufferers are women, though the condition can affect both genders.
As anyone who’s struggled with them will tell you, migraines aren’t just an inconvenience—they’re often so difficult that when they attack, people have to go home from work or miss out on family activities. They can also cause anxiety and stress, as people may worry about losing their jobs or fear they may have to cancel important events.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraines. There are some prescription drugs meant to treat them, but they don’t work for everyone. Those who have tried a variety of treatments without success may wonder whether CBD (cannabidiol) oil might help. It relieves other types of pain—might it be effective on migraines too?
How Are Migraines Different from Other Headaches?
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Migraines are like headaches on steroids. They’re much more painful than regular tension or stress headaches, they last much longer, and they produce symptoms more intense and debilitating than other types.
Scientists aren’t sure why this is, but they believe that migraine is a neurological disorder involving nerve pathways and chemicals. Rather than just a headache, a migraine is an “incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that usually includes a severe throbbing recurring pain on one side of the head,” according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
Typical symptoms of a migraine include:
- Pain usually on one side of the head, but often on both sides
- Throbbing and pulsing pain
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision and auditory changes (only for those experiencing an “aura” with their headaches)
Migraines frequently cause severe pain and can last up to 72 hours or longer.
Why Would CBD Oil Help with Migraines?
CBD oil is typically extracted from hemp—a plant that is part of the cannabis family and has been used to produce a variety of products for thousands of years. It contains cannabidiol, a chemical compound in the plant that has been found to have health benefits.
CBD oil does not have the mind-altering effects of marijuana, though, because levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the compound responsible for a marijuana “high”—are low to nonexistent in most CBD oil products.
The strongest scientific evidence behind CBD so far is in its effect on childhood epilepsy. It can help reduce the number of seizures and sometimes stop them altogether. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even approved a cannabis-derived medication for this condition.
CBD oil may offer other health benefits as well, however, including reducing anxiety, promoting a good night’s sleep, and treating different types of chronic pain.
How Might CBD Oil Work on Migraines?
Scientists still don’t know exactly how CBD works when it comes to pain, but they think it helps reduce inflammation in the brain and nervous system by interacting with the body’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Interestingly enough, the human body has natural cannabis-like molecules that perform many critical functions. Together, they’re known as the ECS, which is extremely important for establishing and maintaining human health.
When we consume cannabinoids in CBD oil or other sources (like this CBD Living CBD Chocolate Bar or Joy Organics CBD Energy Drink), the ECS receives and translates signals from them, which can affect the messages going back and forth between body and mind. From what we know so far, it seems that CBD activates or inhibits compounds in the ECS to help reduce pain and inflammation, while also quieting nerves, all of which may ease migraine pain.
In a 2019 review, researchers noted that cannabinoids modulate signaling pathways in the ECS that play a role in pain control. They suggested that using compounds like CBD to affect changes in the ECS could help treat migraine pain.
What Does the Research Say About CBD Oil for Migraines?
So far we have limited research specifically on CBD oil and migraines. Those studies that have been completed used CBD combined with THC.
Results from a 2018 mini-review showed that cannabinoids presented a “promising class of compounds” in the treatment of migraine pain, mainly because of their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
In an earlier study of 127 participants who suffered from migraines and cluster headaches (severe headaches that occur on one side of the head), those who took 200 mg per day of a THC-CBD drug experienced 55 percent less pain than those who didn’t take the drug. (You can get the same dose of CBD alone with these CBD FX CBD pills.)
In a follow-up experiment, researchers gave some participants the THC-CBD drug and others 25 milligrams of amitriptyline, an antidepressant often used to treat migraines. Results showed the THC-CBD drug performed slightly better at reducing migraine frequency as the medication. It also produced fewer side effects than the medication did.
In a more recent 2019 study, researchers from Washington State University found that inhaled cannabis reduced migraine severity by nearly 50 percent. The results also showed no significant difference in pain reduction among cannabis strains that were higher or lower in THC and CBD, suggesting that products with less THC—like the CBD FX CBD vape pen—may work well too.
How Do You Use CBD Oil for Migraines?
Most studies on cannabis and migraines or even headaches in general involved oral supplements, but the one mentioned above involved inhaling cannabis, so both options may be worth a try.
Since the research is limited, there is no recommended dose at this time, but studies do show that CBD is well tolerated and safe in humans. Always check with your doctor first, then start with the lowest dose recommended on the product label. This CBD Living CBD Tincture, for example, allows you to control the dose up to 300 mg, while this one allows you to go a little higher (750 mg) if you need to.
Migraines are painful, debilitating, and life-changing. If standard treatments haven’t worked for you, you may want to consider CBD products for pain relief. Meanwhile, if you’re trying to lose some weight, check out how CBD may help: “CBD Oil for Weight Loss: Does CBD Work for Weight Loss?”