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.
Best CBD Oil for Migraines & Headaches: Benefits, Dosage, & Side-Effects
Migraines can turn an otherwise normal day into a complete write-off — and they’re notoriously hard to treat.
CBD may help by regulating serotonin release, fighting inflammation, controlling vascular spasm, and more.
Migraine headaches are the most common neurological disorder in the Western world . They affect roughly 6% of males and 18 % of females every year.
Most of the treatments for migraines involve prophylactic and/or symptomatic support rather than addressing the underlying cause.
One of the best candidates as a new, effective treatment for migraine headaches is cannabidiol (CBD) from the hemp plant.
In this article, you’ll learn how CBD can help with migraines, how much CBD oil to use, and where to find the best CBD oils for cluster headaches and migraines.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Carlos G. Aguirre, M.D.,Pediatric Neurologist
Updated on November 07, 2020
Table of Contents
- Best CBD Oils For Migraines
- Can CBD Oil Help With Migraines?
- 1. May Prevent Serotonin-Release (Cause For Migraines)
- 2. Inhibits Brain Inflammation
- 3. Reduces Vascular Spasms
- 4. Alleviates Head Pain
- What’s The Dose of CBD Oil For Migraine Headaches?
- How Long Should I Use CBD Oil for Migraines?
- What are Migraines?
- Four Phases of Migraine Headaches
- Phase 1: Prodromal Phase
- Phase 2: Aura Phase
- Phase 3: Pain (Headache) Phase
- Phase 4: Postdrome Phase
- Four Phases of Migraine Headaches
- What Causes Migraine Headaches?
- 1. Serotonin & Platelet Theory
- 2. Inflammation (Sensitization)
- 3. Muscular Spasms of the Veins and Arteries
- How Are Migraine Headaches Treated?
- Treatment Options for Migraine Headaches:
- Herbal Medicine for Migraines
- Key Takeaways: Can CBD Oil Help With Migraines?
- References Cited in This Article
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Can CBD Oil Help With Migraines?
One of the most common traditional the cannabis plant is for treating headaches.
Over the past few years there’s been a lot of research exploring the impact of CBD and other cannabis-derivatives for treating migraines and other forms of headaches.
Hemp extracts have so far been proven effective for chronic headaches , migraine headaches , headaches resulting from medications , cluster headaches , intracranial hypertension , and multiple sclerosis neuropathic head pain (trigeminal neuralgia) .
CBD (cannabidiol) is the primary compound responsible for the painkilling benefits of the plant and the most relevant compound for the anti-migraine effects.
Other related compounds (called cannabinoids) offer additional support. The best CBD oils for migraine headaches are made from a full-spectrum extract that contains a variety of active ingredients — such as CBG (cannabigerol), CBC (cannabichromene), THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and several hemp-derived terpenes.
All of these compounds work alongside CBD to support the painkilling effects of CBD and provide other anti-migraine benefits.
Some of these compounds prevent the release of serotonin from platelet cells (one of the main causes for migraine attacks), others regulate inflammation and blood flow to the brain.
The benefits of CBD oil for migraines include:
- May prevent serotonin-related causses
- Inhibits brain inflammation
- Prevents or alleviates vascular spasms
- Alleviates head pain
1. May Prevent Serotonin-Release (Cause For Migraines)
We’ve long known about the ability for cannabis to inhibit the release of serotonin from the platelets .
This effect could help prevent and treat migraines caused by excessive serotonin release from platelets — which is one of the predominant theories for the underlying cause of migrane attacks (more on this later).
Interestingly, this same effect on serotonin release is also considered one of the primary ways CBD can be used to treat nausea and vomiting, which are also common symptoms associated with migraine headaches.
2. Inhibits Brain Inflammation
One of the ways marijuana was used in the past to treat headaches, was by wrapping its wet leaves around the head and neck for several hours at a time . This practice, mainly documented among the Sumerians, is most likely a direct result of these anti-inflammatory effects.
Modern treatments of migraines often involve anti-inflammatories such as Aspirin or Tylenol.
CBD exerts its effects through a number of different anti-inflammatory mechanisms including adenosine  and NF-kB . Both of these inflammatory channels are considered the primary causes of migraine headaches.
3. Reduces Vascular Spasms
The trigeminal nerve is responsible for causing the vascular system in the brain to spasm out of control — causing cluster headaches and migraines.
One of the main reasons this happens is hyperactivity involving the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)/glutamate system. This system is responsible for causing many of the stimulating activities in the brain.
It’s like the gas pedal in the car. Once activated, RPM increases and the car goes faster.
In the brain, it’s very similar — when NMDA is active, your neurons fire faster and faster.
Much like a car, the brain also has a brake pedal. We call this Gamma-aminobutyric acid – or GABA. It slows us down and helps us relax, directly opposing the effects of NMDA.
In some cases, NMDA activity can go out of control, causing the trigeminal nerve controlling the vascular system in the brain to go haywire and spasm. This results in severe migraine headaches, which can last hours on end.
CBD slows this process down by stepping on the brake pedal (GABA) , similar to Valproic Acid, slowing everything down, and stopping the arterial system spasm.
4. Alleviates Head Pain
CBD is a master modulator. This means that it doesn’t work on any single pathway, forcing it in one direction or another.
This effect allows CBD to help regulate how much pain we perceive. Like playing with the volume control on your speaker system it can help “turn down” the volume on pain.
When we experience migraine headaches, the pain volume is cranked all the way up.
CBD helps promote the processes that are meant to control this by telling some of the responsible receptors (such as the TRPV1 and opioid receptors) to step up and turn the volume back down to an appropriate level.
There are 10 times as many CB1 receptors as there are mu-opioid receptors in our central nervous system and pain pathways [16,17]. This means the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors are likely a key regulator of pain sensation within the brain, and intimately involved with the regulation of migraine or cluster headache-related pain.
What’s The Dose of CBD Oil For Migraine Headaches?
Dosing CBD can be a challenge, especially since it tends to react differently in everybody.
For some people, a small dose is all that’s needed to produce effects, while others need much larger doses. This can make dosing difficult at first, but once you understand how it works in your body, it’s very straightforward.
There are some general CBD dosage guidelines you can follow for figuring out the right dose to start with, and how to dial it effectively.
With that said, it’s important to note that many people who are prone to migraines tend to be more sensitive to chemicals. For this reason, we recommend starting slightly below the lowest recommended dosage for your weight and build up slowly from there.
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How Long Should I Use CBD Oil for Migraines?
The key to using CBD oil effectively for migraines is to use it regularly over long periods of time, in addition to your routine prescriptions.
By taking small doses of the oil throughout the day – usually once in the morning and once in the evening — you’ll be able to improve your body’s natural ability to maintain neurovascular balance and avoid spiraling out of control into a debilitating migraine attack.
Many people taking CBD oil for this will increase the dose when they feel a migraine attack coming on to stop it in its tracks or reduce its overall severity.
For example, a migraine sufferer might take 5 mg worth of CBD in the morning and 5 mg in the evenings most days. When they feel a migraine coming on, they take another 5 mg every 2 or 3 hours until it subsides. However, you should also keep taking your prescription medications for prevention and treatment.
What are Migraines?
Migraines are a type of severe, recurring headache accompanied by at least one, or various, physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.
In many cases, these headaches only affect one side of the head and cause throbbing pain. They may also be agitated by movement, and are of enough intensity to interfere with daily function.
Migraines typically last 4-8 hours (typically all day), but can last as long as three days (72 hours).
Along with headaches, migraine sufferers also commonly experience other symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light, sound, and smells, as well as visual disturbances.
Four Phases of Migraine Headaches
Migraines tend to have distinct phases. These aren’t always present, and they can vary a lot from one episode to the next.
Phase 1: Prodromal Phase
This phase can begin either days, hours, or minutes before a migraine attack — it’s a common warning sign that a migraine is soon to ensue.
It may involve a wide variety of symptoms that appear before the actual headache. People with chronic migraines tend to learn what their triggers and early symptoms usually are. These feelings should prompt people to take their preventive medications.
Some common symptoms of the prodromal phase include:
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Constipation OR diarrhea
- Food cravings
- Sensitivity to stimuli (light, sound, smell, taste, touch)
Phase 2: Aura Phase
During the aura phase, people experience strange changes in their vision and/or perception. It can change the way colors look, how we interpret smell and taste and can alter our mood dramatically.
The aura phase typically lasts about 1 to 2 hours.
For most people who experience regular migraines, this is the most reliable indication that they are about to have an episode. Some people can even estimate how severe their migraine will be from the severity of the aura phase.
Symptoms of the aura phase can include:
- Vision disturbances
- Changes in perception of taste, light, smell, sound, and touch
- Speech or language problems
- A spinning sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Auditory or visual hallucinations
Phase 3: Pain (Headache) Phase
This is the main phase we think of when we talk about migraines.
This phase can vary a lot in severity and is usually very unpredictable, even in people who have regular episodes of migraine headaches.
In most cases, migraine headaches only affect one side of the head but can affect both sides equally as well. Some people feel the pain at the front of the head, others at the back, and some in the center.
However, if you suddenly experience the worst headache of your life that feels like a clap of thunder all over your head, or have had a migraine for over 72 hours, please go to your nearest emergency department right away.
Symptoms of the pain phase include:
- Severe throbbing head pain
- Sensitivity to sensory information (light, sound, taste, smell, touch, and movement)
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty speaking
- Spinning sensation
- Frequent urination
- Pale skin
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Neck pain
Phase 4: Postdrome Phase
The postdrome phase happens after a migraine has settled.
Many people who experience these say they resemble a hangover but can last for several days. Some will even feel pressure or low-grade pain in the places where most of their migraine affected.
It can leave people feeling fatigued and depressed for a few days after the event.
In some cases, people may find that during this phase they feel unusually refreshed and clear-headed. Some reports even suggest a euphoric state for as long as a week after the event.
What Causes Migraine Headaches?
Migraine headaches tend to be very elusive to researchers. They’re hard to predict and even harder to trace back to any particular cause. Migraine headaches tend to be very elusive, however, researchers today have a better understanding of the basis of migraines.
From stress and hormone levels to allergies and chemical exposure — these are all considered factors and potential causes for migraines but can vary a lot from one person to the next.
Common Migraine Triggers
- Mental — Stress, emotional upset
- Endogenous — Hormonal changes, fasting, fatigue, sleep disturbances
- Exogenous — Certain foods (chocolate, wine, aged cheese, etc.), alcohol, smoke, allergens, nitrates, oral contraceptives, glutamate, tyramine
- Other — Weather, bright colors, odors, temperature changes, altitude
One of the main factors new research is investigating is hormone levels.
This is because migraines are more common in young boys just before puberty and 2 or 3 times more likely in women than men. Additionally, migraines tend to decrease during pregnancy and menopause.
All of these factors can be traced back to fluctuations in hormone levels, though scientists still don’t know exactly how this works, but there are several strong theories as we’ve listed below.
There are several prominent theories at play  which are most likely the actual causes of hormone-related migraines including:
- Serotonin/platelet theory
- Sensitization of peripheral and central brain areas from inflammation
- Muscular spasms of the veins and arteries
Let’s cover some of the main ones now and how they’re correlated with CBD.
1. Serotonin & Platelet Theory
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and has many roles in the body. It regulates much of our emotion, sexual function, hormone balance, and memory.
One of the leading theories for the cause of migraines is an excessive release of serotonin from platelet triggers.
What does this mean?
A platelet is a type of cell that floats around in the bloodstream and plays an important role in the way we monitor and control coagulation and inflammation in the body — among other things. One of the ways we do this is by releasing small amounts of serotonin.
In some cases, these platelets can overreact to the situation and dump large amounts of serotonin into the bloodstream, causing blood vessels to widen and lose pressure. This essentially causes regions located near the area to go into shock .
When this happens in the blood vessels of the brain, it can cause the widening of blood vessels and release of inflammatory signals causing symptoms such as severe pain, disorientation, and hypersensitivity to stimuli like sight and smell.
What this means: If we can stop the excessive release of serotonin from the platelet cells, we may be able to stop or prevent migraine headaches.
2. Inflammation (Sensitization)
We need inflammation to stay healthy.
It’s our bodies’ way to trap and destroy invading bacteria and viruses. Inflammation promotes healing and prevents further damage to the body by causing pain and redness which reminds us to be careful with that part of the body.
Unfortunately, inflammation can go out of control causing many different health problems for the body.
One such problem is migraine headaches.
A protein found inside the cells, known as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB for short) is responsible for regulating the creation of inflammatory compounds in the cells.
NF-kB is a major driving factor behind migraine headaches. When this protein goes out of balance, it can cause an overabundance of inflammatory messengers called cytokines (IL-1B, IL-6, and TNF-a). These messengers then trigger a wave of inflammation and pain in the nervous system. .
Since these messengers are short-lived, the problem usually subsides within several hours, causing the migraine to typically last all day, and before gradually disappearing.
This cause is especially common in people who tend to be over-reactive to foods and other allergens. People who suffer from asthma and hay fever are also at a higher risk for migraines caused by this effect.
What this means: If we can stop the overactivation of NF-kB, we may be able to prevent migraines.
3. Muscular Spasms of the Veins and Arteries
All of our arteries have a thin layer of muscle lining them.
These muscles are designed to expand and contract to control our blood pressure and to allow us to shunt blood into vital organs such as the brain when need be.
A good example of when do this is when we’re out in the cold.
To preserve the core body temperature, the blood vessels in our hands, feet, and nose will tighten to slow blood flow in the area. This helps to keep the warm blood closer to the internal organs.
There are other reasons for shunting blood as well, such as after a meal when we need more blood flow to the digestive organs or after a traumatic injury where we need to bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to the damaged site.
This system is especially sensitive in the delicate regions of the brain.
When the trigeminal ganglion is activated by the cortical spreading depression, it releases pro-inflammatory molecules onto] the muscles controlling its blood vessels that can widen and spasm, causing severe migraine headaches.
What this means: If we can stop excessive vascular spasms among the arteries feeding the brain, we can stop migraines.
How Are Migraine Headaches Treated?
Treating migraines focuses on both prevention as well as treatment, but still involves a lot of trial and error, as well as time due to everyone’s unique chemistry.
This is because the medications used to address any of the three causes of migraines are different, and it takes up to 6 weeks for a medication to build up enough to have any effect.
Most of the drugs for migraines have about a >50% chance of working after several weeks. If one medication doesn’t work, doctors will usually move on to another one. If your migraines happen 15 or more days per month, then scalp botox injections are also an effective new, insurance-covered prevention option.
Most people who suffer migraines will use [their preventive medications and prescriptions. However, milder migraine sufferers may use] over the counter pain medications such as Excedrin, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Aspirin, however, this only help curb the intensity of mild episodes. They do little for actually clearing up a migraine and are rarely strong enough to completely alleviate symptoms. Most often they’re used in conjunction with routine prescription medication.
Treatment Options for Migraine Headaches:
- Onabotulinum toxin(Botox)
- Ergot alkaloids
- Divalproex/Sodium Valproate
Most of these medications come with a long list of negative side effects such as ulcers, heart vessel spasm, kidney damage. Unfortunately for some people, there is only minimal relief available from migraine headaches.
For this reason, many people who suffer recurrent migraines are turning for help from a different source of medicine.
Herbal Medicine for Migraines
There are obvious benefits to conventional medicine over plant-based medicine. However, this is not the case for migraine headaches.
There are many herbs with well-established benefits of treating and preventing migraine headaches.
Feverfew, for example, is a small plant in the daisy family that offers direct improvements on all three processes thought to be causing migraine headaches .
Another plant that has shown significant potential in addressing the causes and symptoms of migraine headaches is the cannabis plant.
Plants such as these often contain dozens, if not hundreds of different chemicals. Unlike pharmaceuticals, this makes it difficult to characterize each compound’s precise effects, giving them the added benefit of providing what we could call a multifaceted approach to treatment.
This means that the series of chemicals contained in cannabis may possibly offer similar benefits for a medical condition, but do it through different mechanisms.
For example, the cannabis plant contains as many as 80 different cannabinoids and well over 100 different terpenes in its leaves and resin.
Some of these cannabinoids help to stop arterial spasms, others stabilize immune cells and more.
By providing multiple therapeutic avenues for a particular condition, and by sharing many common underlying mechanisms, cannabis could potentially stand a better chance of fixing the problem.
This is a common technique oncologists use to fight cancer. By using a cocktail of chemotherapeutic drugs, each with slightly different modes of action, they get a far greater chance of choosing the right one and curing their patient’s cancer.
Key Takeaways: Can CBD Oil Help With Migraines?
Migraines are many things— common, debilitating, and mysterious.
Doctors and neuroscientists still don’t have a definitive explanation for what causes them or how to stop them.
There are, however, a lot of promising theories that we can start with when looking for treatments for the condition. From what is known, there are common pathways that CBD may also act upon to help.
CBD oil has recently been on the rise as a new and potentially effective migraine treatment and prevention method. It works through several different yet related pathways to resist the processes driving migraine headaches.
It’s likely that we’ll see this use of CBD and CBD oil become a standard adjunctive treatment for the condition in the next few years as more research sheds light on the incredible benefits of this humble plant extract.
Research shows CBD may prevent migraines & reduce their severity. Check out these expert-recommended CBD oils for migraines.