Can CBD Help With Headaches?
- Cannabis and its constituents could help with pain caused by headaches and migraines(1). Researchers noted that cannabidiol (CBD) might be useful in reducing pain and inhibiting inflammation(2).
- Based on an analysis of several clinical trials, using both THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD may help relieve multiple types of chronic, non-cancer pain(3).
- Inflammation of the nervous system is linked to headache disorders(4). Cannabinoids, like CBD, are potent anti-inflammatory agents that could be beneficial to people with headaches and migraines.
- A study published in the journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management implicated CBD as a modulator of the endocannabinoid system (ECS)(5). The ECS is a system that is believed to be responsible for regulating various functions in the body, such as inflammation and pain.
- However, most of the studies on CBD have been performed on animal models. The distinct lack of human data makes it difficult for researchers to determine CBD’s efficacy for headaches.
Why People Are Turning to CBD for Headaches
Headache is a prevalent disorder of the nervous system generally characterized by a recurrent, painful sensation in regions of the head. This disabling condition is believed to be caused by many factors, such as stress, lack of sleep, fatigue, and hunger(6).
Although headaches can be defined as pain in any part of the head, the intensity, duration, and cause of this pain vary among the types of headache disorders.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the primary types of headaches are migraines, tension-type headaches (TTH), cluster headaches (CH), and medication-overuse headache (MOH)(7).
Out of the four types, migraine and tension-type headaches are said to be the most common. TTH is believed to affect approximately 60% to 80% of the population, while migraine attacks have a prevalence of 15%(8).
Cluster headaches are reportedly uncommon but are often misdiagnosed and mismanaged. MOH is more of a secondary headache disorder as it usually coexists with primary headache conditions(9).
Pain relief medications are the most common over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs for headaches.
People with tension-type headaches can obtain medications, like ibuprofen and aspirin, to reduce the pain from this condition(10).
Doctors may also prescribe pain relief medicines, such as naproxen and indomethacin, for acute TTH.
Triptans are some of the first-line agents that are prescribed for acute migraines, and sometimes, cluster headaches. These medications bind to serotonin receptors in the brain to prevent the release of substances that cause migraines(11).
Triptans can also be administered together with anti-inflammatory drugs as part of pharmacotherapy. A 2007 study has shown that combining these medications appear to be more effective for migraines than using them individually(12).
Botulinum toxin (botox) is also believed to reduce the frequency and severity of chronic migraine(13).
Meanwhile, there are reports that cannabis and its constituents could help treat pain, including pain from migraines and headaches(14). Specifically, cannabidiol (CBD) is of interest to researchers due to its supposed analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties(15).
CBD is a chemical compound (cannabinoid) that can be derived from Cannabis sativa plants. It is non-psychotropic, which means that it does not alter one’s perception or cognition upon intake.
Although there is a lack of specific data on CBD’s effectiveness in treating headaches, there are indications that it could alleviate its primary symptoms.
A study published by Current Neuropharmacology reviewed various cannabinoids, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD, as potential pain relief agents. Several clinical trials that were analyzed showed that using both cannabis compounds might help relieve various types of chronic, non-cancer pain(16).
Most of the trials were done on human patients who had multiple sclerosis or neuropathic pain. A few trials also reported that their subjects experienced improved sleep, possibly due to feeling less pain(17).
Researchers in a 2020 study investigated the use of CBD and its potential role in pain management. Since there are no approved CBD products for treating chronic pain, the review focused on nabiximols, an extract with THC and CBD for pain relief(18).
The researchers found it difficult to attribute the analgesic properties of nabiximols to CBD alone since the product also contains THC.
However, a study in a rat model of neuropathic pain mentioned that CBD might be responsible for the pain-relieving effect of an extract containing several cannabis constituents(19).
The researchers of the study hypothesized that cannabidiol’s interaction with TRPV1 receptors could be the reason for this effect.
There is also a theory that inflammation may be a potential mechanism in nervous system disorders, including that of headaches.
One study in 2005 provided the basis for neurogenic inflammation to be studied further. The study concluded that there seems to be a link between inflammation and migraine(20).
This neurogenic inflammation theory suggests that molecules, called neuropeptides, are involved in migraine headaches(21).
These peptides are believed to be associated with inflammatory tissue responses and pain sensitivity(22).
A study published in Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology analyzed several migraine medications and found that these drugs inhibit the release of neuropeptides(23).
According to the author, these findings further strengthen the idea that migraine may be a neuroinflammatory disease.
Furthermore, cannabinoids, like CBD, are reported to be potent anti-inflammatory agents(24) that could benefit individuals with headaches.
A 2018 study assessed CBD’s ability to inhibit inflammation compared to that of terpenoids. Terpenoids are organic compounds that can also be obtained from cannabis.
The authors found that terpenoid-rich essential oils exert anti-inflammatory properties but were not as effective as pure CBD(25).
They also learned that, in contrast to terpenoids, which had short-lived immunosuppression, CBD exerted this action longer. The researchers believe this prolonged immunosuppression may be useful for chronic inflammation(26).
Despite these positive findings, there is still no substantial evidence that proves CBD as an effective treatment for the symptoms of headaches.
More clinical trials on human subjects with headache disorders are needed to further this area of interest.
How CBD Oil Works to Help with Headaches
Knowing how CBD works in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is essential to understand how it may help alleviate headaches.
The ECS is a system found in mammals believed by researchers to regulate a range of functions in the body. Its ability to modulate physiological functions is made possible through its many receptors(27).
Researchers in a 2006 study on mice investigated CBD’s reported immunosuppressive ability and found that the compound decreased the production of molecules that caused inflammation.
The authors learned that a low dose of CBD reduced TNFalpha creation in the mouse model of inflammation(28). TNFalpha is a substance in the body that promotes inflammation.
The researchers believe that CBD’s effect on TNFalpha production demonstrates its ability to interact with a non-cannabinoid receptor to reduce inflammation.
Another study also implicated CBD as an ECS modulator. It stated that the compound’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects are realized by its interaction with receptors in the system(29).
The study also mentioned that anandamide levels are low in migraineurs.
In 2012, the Journal of Experimental Medicine published a study supporting the concept that cannabidiol engages with receptors in the ECS.
The authors learned that CBD potentiates glycine receptors in rodents to suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain(30).
They also concluded that this interaction could present cannabinoids, like CBD, as a potential treatment for chronic pain and other inflammatory diseases(31).
Researchers also believe that CBD acts on the cannabinoid receptors of the ECS. This action could be the compound’s approach to helping the system regulate pain and inflammation(32).
The Pros and Cons of CBD Oil for Headaches
- CBD could play a potential role in pain management for headaches. Findings from studies have shown that CBD has analgesic properties, which it expresses by activating specific receptors in the body.
- Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are reported to possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. The connection between immune system inflammation and migraines could mean that migraine patients can use CBD to inhibit the production of inflammatory molecules that cause headaches.
- CBD is the primary non-psychoactive chemical compound of cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD does not result in users experiencing a euphoric high upon consumption.
- Most states in America (Colorado) allow users to purchase and consume cannabidiol. In areas where CBD is legally sold, users can obtain CBD products even if they do not have a prescription from their doctor.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD is generally well-tolerated across several controlled and open-label trials that the agency investigated.
The WHO also mentioned that they did not find cases where human subjects became dependent on cannabidiol based on the controlled studies they analyzed(33).
- Many of the studies concerning cannabidiol were conducted on animals. There is only a limited number of clinical trials that were performed on human subjects.
- There is a lack of data to help determine whether or not CBD can treat certain medical conditions. Currently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one CBD product, called Epidiolex, which is prescribed to treat two rare forms of epilepsy(34).
- In a 2017 review, researchers assessed the safety and potential side effects of CBD. Although the compound has a favorable safety profile, it can cause drug interactions that may lead to adverse side effects(35).
- CBD products sold online and in some dispensaries are especially prone to mislabeling. Individuals who decide to purchase CBD through these channels are at risk of consuming more or less of the chemical compound than what they expect(36).
How CBD Oil Compares to Alternative Treatments for Headaches
A few potential treatment options for headaches include the use of ginger, essential oils, and aromatherapy.
A study in 2013 compared the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan, a conventional drug for migraine relief. One hundred migraineurs were randomly given either ginger powder or sumatriptan and were observed.
Two hours after intake, the severity of headaches on both groups was said to decrease significantly(37).
The researchers of the study also learned that the efficacy of ginger powder was similar to sumatriptan. However, ginger powder had fewer adverse effects than sumatriptan.
Using essential oils, mainly from peppermint and eucalyptus, are also said to help alleviate headache disorders.
The effects of the essential oils from these two herbs were investigated in thirty-two healthy subjects(38).
Four distinct test preparations were used with a combination of peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and ethanol. These mixtures were applied to the foreheads and temples of the subjects using a sponge.
The combination of peppermint, eucalyptus, and ethanol provided physical and mental relaxation. However, they had little impact on pain.
Meanwhile, the subjects that were given a mixture of peppermint and ethanol experienced significant migraine pain relief.
Massage therapy was the focus of a 2002 study that assessed its efficacy in alleviating chronic tension headaches.
Human subjects received structured massage therapy treatment that targeted their neck and shoulder muscles.
Researchers of the study stated that the duration of headaches decreased during massage periods. However, there was no effect on headache intensity.
Nonetheless, they concluded that muscle-specific massage therapy might help reduce chronic tension headaches(39).
Meanwhile, CBD products containing ginger are available as wellness shots, gummies, teas, and tinctures.
These products are often advertised as potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents that can calm the mind.
CBD oil blends made with peppermint extracts are also available to provide users with a soothing and cooling effect. These oils are often sold as tinctures with droppers to easily measure CBD dosage.
Topicals containing both CBD and eucalyptus are sold by some shops and are said to be ideal for relieving stress.
CBD salves and balms infused with eucalyptus offer a refreshing aroma that can be used for massages to relieve headaches.
How to Choose the Right CBD for Headaches
Currently, there are three types of CBD oil products that manufacturers produce for public consumption. These are the full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and CBD isolates.
The full-spectrum type is the most popular variant among the three. It is the kind of CBD that contains all of the naturally-occurring compounds present in Cannabis sativa plants.
Full-spectrum CBD oil contains all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other minerals, such as fatty acids. Quality full-spectrum CBD products are rich in cannabidiol, with small amounts of the other compounds, including THC.
The entourage effect is the synergy that happens when full-spectrum CBD is consumed. This effect brings out the full potential of cannabinoids, showing that they all work better when taken together.
The entourage effect was described in a study published in 2011. It mentioned that interactions between cannabis compounds might result in new therapeutic products, which could be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions(40).
The second type of CBD product is known as broad-spectrum. This variant contains the same compounds present in the cannabis plant, except for THC.
THC is a psychoactive compound that is often found in high concentrations in medical marijuana.
To produce broad-spectrum CBD, the leaves and flowers of cannabis need to undergo a complex extraction method. The process removes tetrahydrocannabinol from the final output.
This procedure allows manufacturers to create their own THC-free CBD products that still have all of the natural cannabinoids of cannabis.
Broad-spectrum CBD is preferred by users who would like to benefit from the various cannabinoids but would like to avoid THC.
People who do not want to be tested positive for THC during drug tests may find this ideal.
Isolates are the third type of CBD. They are often sold in powdered or crystalline form. CBD isolates undergo a process that removes all of the cannabis compounds, except CBD.
The final output leaves behind only pure cannabidiol, which is preferred by people who prefer to consume CBD only.
Whichever type of CBD one chooses, buyers must purchase only the best quality products available to maximize the benefits of CBD.
Here are the following tips to help ensure that one selects only the best CBD oil for migraines today:
- Look for the certificate of analysis (COA) or the laboratory report of the CBD product selected. This document is especially important since it indicates that the item has undergone thorough testing and contains precisely the specifications listed on its label.
- Read up on product and shop reviews if buying from an online store. If purchasing from a physical dispensary, check if it has proper authorization to sell CBD.
- Buy only organic CBD derived from hemp. The hemp plant is the most reliable source of high-quality cannabidiol.
- Ensure that the legalities (federal level farm bill legalization) involving CBD are followed in the state where it is going to be bought and used.
- Consult a medical professional, preferably someone experienced in medical cannabis, before deciding to use CBD for migraine symptoms.
Additional Tips to Get the Best CBD Oil Products
- Avoid CBD brands that sell cannabidiol obtained from the stalks and seeds of hemp plants. Hemp seeds do not contain CBD, while the stalks only have minimal amounts.
- Be careful when purchasing CBD vape cartridges. Some of them contain thinning agents, such as polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol. These substances are harmful when inhaled.
- Assess the quality of CBD edibles and gummies before buying. Be wary of brands that sell CBD snacks made of artificial or sub-standard ingredients.
- Feel free to contact CBD companies directly for any questions or concerns. Switch to another CBD provider if they do not respond.
CBD Dosage for Headaches
There is no FDA-approved cannabidiol dosage for treating headaches, making it difficult for anyone to formulate the right dose for the disorder.
However, some individuals believe that several factors need to be considered to determine the proper dose. The amount of CBD present in each product and the bodyweight of a person are the most commonly cited.
Past clinical trials give users an idea of a safe dosing range fit for human consumption.
CBD dosage was mentioned in one of the reports published by the World Health Organization. They referenced one human study where the subjects took as much as 600 mg of CBD(41).
The WHO learned that even high doses of oral CBD did not cause any adverse reactions to the users in clinical trials. They also mentioned that cannabidiol has a generally well-tolerated safety profile.
Although cannabidiol appears safe for humans, there is still the possibility that some individuals may experience the side effects of CBD.
According to a 2017 study, the most commonly reported adverse reactions include appetite loss, diarrhea, and tiredness(42).
How to Take CBD Oil for Headaches
A straightforward way of consuming CBD oil for migraines and headaches is to take CBD oil capsules or edibles.
CBD in the form of brownies, gummies, and tablets are suitable for beginners due to their direct nature of intake.
Users that wish to control their CBD dosage more may choose to consume CBD oil through tinctures or drops. CBD tinctures are taken sublingually by applying the oil directly under the tongue using a dropper.
One study published in 2010 showed that peak blood levels of most substances taken sublingually are achieved in 10 to 15 minutes. The sublingual application also allows a higher percentage of a dose to be absorbed compared to oral ingestion(43).
People who do not like the taste of pure CBD hemp extract can choose CBD gummies instead. These products are often sold in various flavors, including raspberry, pineapple, grape, and watermelon.
A piece of CBD gummy usually has a fixed amount of CBD, making it easier to give even to kids.
Users can also mix CBD oil with their food and drinks.
In a 2018 study published by the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, the authors suggested that consuming CBD orally after meals allows for more efficient absorption of the compound.
They believe that CBD’s highly lipophilic nature (state of being soluble in lipids or fats) enables it to be dissolved in the fat content of food easily(44).
Meanwhile, CBD topicals used in massage therapies may be beneficial for headache and migraine sufferers Numerous CBD companies are currently selling CBD products in the form of lotions, creams, salves, and balms.
Some brands suggest applying CBD creams on the forehead, temples, jaw, neck, and shoulder areas for migraine treatment.
Look for keywords on the labels of topical CBD products indicating that it used nanotechnology or encapsulation of CBD. These terms mean that the CBD solution can go past the dermal layers of the skin instead of staying only on the surface.
Vaping CBD is a method favored by some individuals who want the compound to take effect in the body faster. When inhaled, CBD vapors can enter the bloodstream immediately through the lungs.
Inhaling cannabidiol could benefit individuals experiencing severe frequency of migraines. People with lung disorders are, however, not advised to vape CBD. CBD vape products made with specific thinning agents can be toxic to the body.
To experience how CBD oil helps with headaches, choose the best method of administration that is comfortable and safe.
Seek the advice of a doctor who is experienced with cannabis use before buying any CBD product.
Why Headaches Hurt
Sensory information by way of pain, vibration, touch, and temperature in the head and neck areas is delivered to the brain through the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is one of several pairs of cranial nerves present at the base of the brain.
The trigeminal nerve has three branches that perform sensations from the scalp, lining surrounding the brain, and blood vessels on the skull.
Brain tissue, on its own, does not have pain-sensitive nerves.
Headaches happen when nerve endings sensitive to pain (nociceptors) react to triggers, like stress, odors, or medicines. They then send messages through the trigeminal nerve to activate pain sensation in the body.
Other areas of the brain may also be a part of this process, which may result in diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other neurological symptoms(45).
When to See a Doctor
Although not all headaches require attention from a physician, some may signal a more severe condition that requires immediate medical care.
It is best to visit a doctor or seek urgent medical care if experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Sudden and severe headache accompanied by a stiff neck
- Extreme headache accompanied by vomiting, fever, or nausea that is not associated with another illness
- A headache that becomes worse over days or weeks
- A headache accompanied by weakness or a loss of sensation in any part of the body
- Headaches associated with convulsions, shortness of breath, or a head injury
- Headache that has been happening for two or more weeks
- Persistent headache, especially in a person over the age of 50 years
- Recurring headaches in children
Headaches are a common nervous system disorder wherein sufferers generally experience recurrent, painful sensations in areas of the head. The disabling condition is said to be caused by various factors, including hunger, fatigue, and lack of sleep.
Using pain relievers are the most common ways of treating headaches. Painkillers, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, help reduce the pain caused by headache disorders. Caffeine, too, is a treatment option.
Cannabidiol offers a novel approach in treating headache disorders. CBD is believed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, which may benefit individuals with regular headaches or even migraines.
Several studies hint that it may relieve pain and inflammation by engaging various receptors in the endocannabinoid system. CBD could be a potential agent for the treatment of migraines.
However, there is a distinct lack of human trials on CBD’s effectiveness, especially for headache disorders.
Users are advised to consult a doctor, especially one that is familiar with cannabidiol, before purchasing any CBD product.
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