CBD is an incredibly therapeutic cannabinoid known to treat a wide range of health conditions. However, from what we know so far, using CBD for migraines or headaches does not guarantee relief. On the other hand, scientific studies report that consuming cannabis seems to help. Read on to learn the details.
There’s no other way to put this – migraines are horrible. Anyone who’s experienced a headache at some point, which is probably everyone, knows how uncomfortable it is and how much it can interrupt daily functioning. However, headaches are normally not long-lasting and can be helped with over-the-counter medication or rest. Migraines cannot.
Not only are migraines more persistent and more intense than headaches, they also commonly cause a variety of other miserable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and high sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises.
A person who experiences headaches more than 15 days out of a month is classified as a chronic migraine sufferer. This condition drastically impacts life quality and can lead to complications in work and personal relationships, which can, in turn, create a negative feedback loop and lead to even more health complications.
What Are Migraines?
Migraines are genetically inherited neurological disorders characterized by imbalances in brain chemistry, and we have no idea what really causes them. In some women, they can be exacerbated by the menstrual cycle, but, other than that, science has pretty much gotten nowhere in understanding the origins of this debilitating disorder.
All we know is that there may be many lifestyle factors that can trigger migraines. They include hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary, environmental, and medicinal factors. However, it’s often difficult to recognize if something is really a trigger or, in fact, an early symptom of a migraine episode.
For such a serious, life-degrading condition, migraines are devastatingly common. According to 2018 statistics, roughly every sixth American (15.3%) suffers from migraines and severe headaches. The numbers are significantly higher in women (20.7%) compared to men (9.7%). Severe headaches have consistently been the fourth or fifth most common reason for ER visits for many years.
Conventional Migraine Treatment
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to mitigate migraine pain. Over-the-counter medication has not been proven very helpful, so hardcore prescription pills are often the only choice. The pharmaceuticals used are from the family of triptans; these tryptamine-based drugs serve to alleviate symptoms of individual headaches, but they are not considered a cure because they do not provide prophylactic treatment.
Coincidentally, these medications are in the same molecular category as many of the classical psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and ayahuasca. This is likely the reason why these substances are frequently reported to be effective against migraines and cluster headaches. A clinical trial examining the efficacy of psilocybin for migraine relief is currently underway.
Sadly, the triptans themselves come with a variety of potential side effects, including dizziness, muscle weakness, nausea, pain, and drowsiness. Some of the drugs in question have been found to cause functional impairment and reduced productivity in up to 15% of sufferers. As the research review notes, their effectiveness and tolerability are highly individual.
CBD for Migraines – Can it Help?
The short answer is – maybe, but don’t get your hopes up.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid from the Cannabis sativa plant, the same plant that marijuana comes from. Unlike THC, however, CBD doesn’t cause any psychoactive effects whatsoever.
Numerous therapeutic benefits of CBD have been reported by hundreds of scientific studies. One of the most salient ones is its incredible analgesic effect – CBD, as well as THC, have been found to help manage symptoms of pain in a variety of medical conditions in a body of research that spans over forty years. However, out of all that research, not a single study has examined the effectiveness of CBD for migraines.
The only scientific indicator we have of CBD’s potential efficacy in treating migraines is that they appear to be regulated in part by the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoid receptors play a vital role in the development of numerous health conditions, especially pain regulation, and CBD’s indirect interaction with it is used to account for many of its therapeutic benefits.
Additionally, numerous personal accounts of CBD products helping to shorten the durations of migraine episodes and even breaking the cycle and preventing onset of new migraines can be found online. However, these anecdotal reports cannot be taken at face value without at least one human clinical trial that would prove CBD’s efficacy.
Should You Try CBD for Headache Symptoms?
All said, CBD is definitely worth a try. If you’re suffering from migraines and are at your wits’ end, CBD is a natural, predominantly legal option which causes no psychoactive effects and has infrequent and mild side effects.
The low risk of suffering something like dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness, or fatigue certainly cannot compare with the potential benefit of having it alleviate your migraine pain. However, just keep in mind that its effectiveness has not been confirmed by scientific study and that the compound itself has not been approved by the FDA.
How to Take CBD for Migraines?
If you do decide to experiment with CBD, there are several different ways to ingest it that could work for migraines.
If time is of the essence, we recommend vaporizing CBD oil for migraine symptom relief. Vaporizing gets the CBD directly in your system, and its effects start within minutes. However, they will also not last too long.
The potentially more effective way of intake is by applying CBD tincture drops sublingually. This way will also get the CBD relatively rapidly in your bloodstream (between 5 and 20 minutes), and its effects should last considerably longer than when vaporized. Three to four drops from a CBD tincture with a 200-300mg CBD concentration should be sufficient if taken as soon as the aura appears.
CBD edibles and capsules are not recommended for migraines both because they take too long to kick in and because chewing may be quite difficult during a migraine episode.
Cannabis for Migraines
If you are not opposed to consuming cannabis, it may be a better option than CBD. Unlike with CBD, there is actual scientific evidence of the efficacy of cannabis for countering migraine symptoms.
A 2016 study found that the frequency of migraine headaches was decreased with medical cannabis use, but only in 19.8% of the participants. An even smaller portion of the respondents (11.6%) found cannabis helpful for stopping the headaches. However, an encouraging 39.7% total found some benefits in using cannabis for migraines.
A more recent study found stronger effects. According to the researchers, inhaled cannabis reduced self-reported headache severity by 47.3% and migraine severity by 49.6% in participants. It worked better in men than in women, no overuse headaches were recorded, but tolerance to cannabis was reported, resulting in diminished effectiveness over time.
Interestingly, the study found no significant difference in migraine symptom reduction among cannabis strains that were higher or lower in levels of THC and CBD. This lack of correlation implies that it may be some other constituents of the plant that actually exert the analgesic effects in the case of migraines.
Cannabis sativa is a complex plant with only a few active compounds well understood. Some of them have also been shown to have accompanying or “entourage” effects when consumed together with others, and it’s likely that we will learn more about this as the cannabinoid science evolves.
In summary, both CBD and cannabis are worthy options to try as migraine treatment alternatives or supplements. Although the research on cannabis is in its infancy and on CBD is still pending, the extremely low risks, high availability, and increasing legality of both of these Cannabis sativa products make them worthwhile for anyone who’s suffering from any life-degrading condition.
Have you tried using cannabis or CBD for migraines or headaches already? What are your experiences?
If you haven’t, are you considering it? What are your concerns?
Please share them with us in the comments below.