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.
CBD oil and migraines
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- 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