Since CBD can help with many health conditions, there is a question of whether it can also help with migraines. There is growing evidence supporting the use of CBD for migraines, although research is still in its early stages. For now, most of the support for this use of CBD is from anecdotal evidence, with more research likely to come soon.
Take a closer look at CBD for migraines, including what it is, how it works, and what you should expect.
Before getting into how CBD can help migraine sufferers, take a quick refresher on the symptoms of migraines and why these headaches can negatively impact one’s daily life to such a strong extent.
Migraines are more than just strong headaches. They typically pound on and tend to stay on one side of the person’s heads. They are also accompanied by other common symptoms, such as tingling sensations in the legs and arms, flashes of lights, and “floaters, which can sometimes come before the headache.
Migraines can last a few hours or even days. Most migraines go through four stages. The prodrome stage is the premonitory stage. The aura stage is when the patient experiences tingling or visual symptoms. The headache stage is the main attack. Finally, the postdrome stage is the time for recovery. While many people experience all of these stages, not everyone does.
The main migraine stage can include throbbing or pulsating pain, pain that worsens with physical activity, heartburn, abdominal pain, lightheadedness, fainting, blurred vision, vomiting, nausea, and extreme sensitivity to smells, sounds, or lights.
Most people with migraines will find some relief by lying down in a dark, quiet room. Some people also experience enough relief with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Others require prescription medications.
Unfortunately, these traditional treatments tend to come with side effects. Common effects of traditional medications include chest and throat tightness, flushing, sleepiness, tingling, depression, fatigue, insomnia, lowered blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, constipation, weight fluctuations, dry mouth, and decreased libido.
Those effects make many people hesitant to try migraine medications, increasing the appeal of CBD for migraines.
Can Salt Help with Migraines?
A common alternative remedy for migraine headaches is sodium, a mineral found in salt. In a study, researchers found a link between migraines and sodium. People who consume a lot of salt report experiencing fewer migraines and severe headaches. While the finding could be a key to future research on treatments for migraines, experts caution that more evidence is required before people change their diets. Research shows that excessive consumption of sodium can increase blood pressure, which may cause headaches or migraines.
At normal levels, between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per liter, sodium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, supports nerve and muscle functions, and regulates the body’s fluid balance. However, when sodium in the blood falls below 135 mEq/L, hyponatremia occurs. Patients with hyponatremia may feel lethargic or confused. Other symptoms include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Seizures and coma may occur, especially when sodium levels fall rapidly. While hyponatremia that develops more slowly may be better tolerated, overly rapid correction of the disorder may cause permanent injury to the central nervous system.
Lithium, a naturally occurring salt, was first used for treating some psychiatric issues. Lithium carbonate is used to prevent and treat people with bipolar disorder. An antimanic agent, it is also sometimes prescribed to prevent migraine disease and cluster headaches, with little success. According to a study, the administration of lithium carbonate to migraine sufferers increased the frequency and severity of their episodes.
Patients on lithium therapy should not decrease their salt intake, nor should they take most water pills, as these may cause toxic side effects. They should drink plenty of water while taking this medication and avoid prolonged exposure to heat. Symptoms of acute lithium intoxication include vomiting and diarrhea. In the absence of treatment, complications may appear with coma, heart rhythm disorders, and collapse.
To understand how CBD can help with migraines, start by gaining some insights into the substance. CBD stands for cannabidiol, and this is one of over a hundred cannabinoids, which are among the substances found in the cannabis plant. As such, it is just a single element of marijuana.
CBD Is Not Psychoactive
It is important to note that CBD is not psychoactive. The psychoactive compound in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. As such, if you take CBD oil for your migraines, you should not experience any psychoactive effects. You should still pass any drug tests you have to take and experience normal brain functioning and focus.
How CBD Works
CBD provides its benefits via interactions with the endocannabinoid system. This system’s receptors bound to the cannabinoids in CBD, affecting their functionality.
As the endocannabinoid system controls pain, the immune system, memory, mood regulation, muscle spasms, and anxiety, among other things, consuming CBD oil can help with all of these functions. In the case of migraines, it is the ability to assist with pain that becomes helpful.
Symptoms That CBD Can Treat
Patients with migraines and those suffering from other conditions use CBD to treat a range of conditions. Cannabis has been part of alternative medicine throughout human history, with people using it for at least 3,000 years. It is common to use CBD to treat pain, including migraines, but this is far from its only use. Additionally, migraines are not the only pain that CBD can relieve.
The benefits of CBD are mostly tied to its positive pharmacological properties. These include neuroprotective, antipsychotic, anti-emetic, pain-relieving, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Properties That Help Migraines
Of those properties associated with CBD, some of them have a larger impact on migraines than others. Its status as a potent analgesic or pain reliever is among the strongest points in favor of this type of use. With nausea and vomiting that many people experience during migraines, CBD’s anti-emetic properties, which prevent nausea and vomiting, are also incredibly helpful.
Its anti-inflammatory effects also help due to the inflammation sometimes associated with migraines. After all, many experts feel that pain of migraine headaches may be at least partially caused by intense sensory nerve stimulation, which is the result of the inflammatory agents that get released during a migraine attack. If this is the case, the properties of CBD will counter that inflammation, helping to relieve that pain.
More Than Migraines
It has been most commonly used to treat pain, although it is also considered an effective treatment for inflammation and neurological symptoms. CBD shows particular promise in treating epilepsy.
Various studies and anecdotal evidence also show that CBD can help treat arthritis, depression, anxiety, and diabetes.
There is now a CBD-based medication approved by the FDA for certain epileptic conditions, including those that target children. This is the first cannabis-based medicine that the organization has approved, and hopefully, there will be more to come.
Will CBD Help Your Migraines?
Unfortunately, you cannot get a definitive answer as to whether CBD will get you relief from your migraine without actually trying it for yourself. You will likely experience relief, but everyone is different. Your results will depend on your body chemistry, the severity of the migraines, the specific type of symptoms you want to treat, and the dosage of CBD you try.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence from people who have experienced migraine relief from CBD, so it should not be a stretch of the imagination to believe you have a good chance of experiencing relief as well. That said, there have not been any clinical trials of CBD isolates for migraines yet, and official research on CBD and cannabis for migraines is limited.
What Others Say
You can easily find numerous stories online of people who suffered from regular migraines, including those that are severely debilitating and who have experienced relief from CBD. You will also find some anecdotal evidence of people who do not see results or only get minimal results.
Remember that just like everyone reacts differently to pharmaceutical medications, everyone reacts differently to CBD. Some people get relief from low doses of CBD, while others require higher doses. Some experience relief within 15 or so minutes, while others require a longer wait. Similarly, some people will only use CBD when they feel a migraine coming on, while others consume it regularly as a preventative measure. The bottom line is that everyone is unique.
There Is No Harm in Trying
While there is no guarantee that you will experience relief by taking CBD, there is not really any harm in trying. CBD is known for its minimal negative effects. If you choose your product carefully, you will not have to worry about any psychoactive effects that interrupt your daily functioning.
Do Not Trust Products That Promise Results
As you look for products, pay attention to the claims that they make. If any product guarantees that it will relieve your migraines, stay away. It is not possible to make this claim accurately, so the company is engaging in false advertising. They may discuss typical results or say you are likely to experience relief, but any language with clear promises should be a warning sign.
CBD Use During Pregnancy
Migraines, cramping, headaches, back pain, joint pains, and sleep problems are only some of the unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms that pregnant women may experience. Although the research was not specific to CBD oil, the results of a 2016 study showed that medical marijuana reduced the frequency of migraine episodes. In another study, published in 2018, researchers noted that CBD could support the treatment of migraines, headaches, and pain. Results showed that CBD oil could help with pain management by suppressing pain centers in the brain.
CBD proponents believe that CBD is a molecule that can help with the development of healthy brain cells. Also, several women say they have experienced lesser symptoms after taking CBD oil. An expectant mother’s best option to ensure the safety of the fetus is the topical application of CBD. The proper dose depends on one’s weight, genetics, and severity of pregnancy conditions.
How Safe are Triptans for Migraines During Pregnancy?
Triptans are a class of prescription medications that help block migraine pain. Research shows that using triptans to treat migraines during pregnancy does not interfere with the development of a fetus. The data gathered from the study are reassuring for pregnant women who take triptans to alleviate migraine symptoms.
How to Consume CBD for Migraines
If you decide to consume CBD to help with your migraines, you will have several methods to choose from. If you opt for CBD oil, you can place a few drops under your tongue. You could also vape it, mix the tincture with something else and consume it, or apply it topically. You can also get CBD in forms other than oil. There are many capsules and pills available, as well as a range of edibles, such as gummies. These can offer a great deal of convenience. You can also find topical CBD-infused solutions, including those you apply to the migraine area.
Among the various methods, vaping will produce the quickest results, giving you the benefits of CBD the most quickly. Edibles tend to take the longest for the results to begin, but they will also likely last the longest.
Choosing Your Method
For those who prefer to consume their CBD orally, oil, capsules, or edibles are among the best options. If you want quick results and do not mind experiencing potential lung irritation, then vaping may be a good option.
Those concerned about accurately dosing their CBD consumption may want to opt for a pre-dosed version, such as gummies or capsules. The downside, however, is that these do not allow for as much flexibility with doses as you cannot easily cut a gummy or capsule in half.
How Much CBD to Take for Migraines
Because research into CBD is still in the early stages, there are still no officially recommended doses. This means that determining the appropriate amount to take for your migraines will be a process of trial and error, depending on factors like your age, body chemistry, and frequency of migraine symptoms.
All experts agree that you should start with a lower dosage of CBD and then increase it as needed to get results. This lets you work your way up to the dose that is ideal for you. By not taking a dose that is too high, you keep your risks of side effects low.
Follow the Label
A good rule of thumb is to follow the label and instructions that come with your particular CBD oil. The company will likely have guidelines for dosages either on the product itself, the accompanying paperwork, or their website. Use this to your benefit.
Comparing Isolates and Full-spectrum Products
There are two main categories of CBD products that you will see: full-spectrum and isolates. The former category includes the full range of compounds, terpenes, and flavonoids found in cannabis. In contrast, isolates only contain CBD and possibly a carrier oil.
Presence of THC
The biggest difference between products is whether THC is present and its quantities. Isolates will have anywhere from zero to 0.3 percent while other products may have more.
Choosing Between Them
This is an important distinction depending on your needs. Opting for a full-spectrum product will let you take advantage of the entourage effect, which means that the various elements of cannabis work together to enhance their effects. The downside of these products is that it will likely contain some THC. This may result in minimal psychoactive effects, and it may show up on a drug test. That is why many people opt for CBD isolates. You can also choose products that explicitly state they have 0 percent psychoactive elements. Remember that marijuana can stay in your system for up to 30 days, causing you to fail a drug test.
Choosing a CBD Product
Once you have decided to try taking CBD for your migraines, you will have hundreds of options to choose from. Between suppliers, types of products, and doses, the choices are endless. Start the selection process by considering the following factors:
Your Product Preferences
Start by thinking about your personal preferences and the information already mentioned. Do you want to try CBD oil? Or would rather take a capsule or gummy? Do you plan to vape it? Or will you use it sublingually? Your preferred method of consumption will determine the type of product you choose, from oils to gummies to capsules.
Your preference will also determine which category of product you choose. Remember that this will depend on whether you want to avoid the psychoactive effects or take advantage of the entourage effect.
The laws in your area will also limit your CBD product choice. If the CBD is hemp-based and contains less than 0.3 percent THC, it should be legal at the federal level thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. However, some states have their own laws, and the products with greater concentrations may not be legal in your area.
Avoid Claims That Are Too Good to Be True
You should always avoid any claims that seem too good to be true when looking for CBD for migraines. If a product claims to permanently get rid of your migraines and work for everyone, move on. You do not want to buy from a company that lies in its advertising. Instead, look for moderate claims that line up with the information you have read and understand the claims made by other companies. Phrases like “can help treat” and “can help relieve” are always positive indicators.
CBD Dosage or Concentration
You will also want to pay attention to the dosage of CBD available in each product. Some unscrupulous sellers may focus on quantities like milliliters of liquid in an oil or number of capsules in a bottle instead of the CBD content. While those factors are important, the dose is more important.
Looking at the dose of CBD lets you compare prices, so you get a great value. Remember that when you compare pricing across brands, you should look at price per milligram of CBD, not milliliter of solution. Examining doses also lets you determine how long a product will last.
If you are new to CBD, then remember that you will need to experiment a bit to figure out your ideal dosage. In this case, you may want to choose a flexible option, such as oil. After all, what happens if you need 35 mg of CBD but only have CBD gummies with 15 mg each? At the very least, you may want to consider getting oil and your preferred method to start. Then, once you determine your ideal dose, you can buy it solely in the form you prefer.
Assuming that marijuana is legal in your jurisdiction or medical marijuana is legal, and you have the appropriate paperwork, you can choose CBD from marijuana or hemp. If marijuana is illegal in your jurisdiction, then make sure you choose hemp-based CBD so that you do not break any laws.
Ideally, you should also be sure that the plant your CBD comes from was grown without harsh pesticides or fertilizers. Trace elements of these chemicals can end up in the final product, which you want to avoid. You may also want to pay attention to where the hemp or cannabis is grown. This plays a role as every country has its own legal requirements and standards.
Certificates of Analysis
Finally, be sure to look at a certificate of analysis for any CBD product you buy. At the moment, the FDA does not closely regulate CBD products, so it is up to you to ensure that you consume safe products that are what the suppliers claim. Because of this, most of the top companies will offer certificates of analysis that show independent third-party lab testing. That testing should confirm concentrations and also validate that the product is free from harmful substances like trace minerals.
Some companies will perform their own in-house testing instead of outsourcing this. While that is a step above no testing at all, it is still preferable to opt for a company with independent testing. After all, internal testing likely has some bias.
Potential Side Effects of CBD
Taking CBD for migraines tends to come with fewer side effects than traditional pharmaceutical drugs. You can also minimize the negative side effects by opting for the lowest dose that is strong enough for you.
The most common effects include drowsiness, upset stomach, fatigue, and changes to weight and appetite. Although rare, it is possible to experience liver toxicity following consuming extremely high doses of CBD.
One study in 2012 looked at the effects of consuming CBD versus the psychoactive cannabinoid. The participants were all healthy, and when consuming the latter, they experienced some psychotic symptoms, anxiety, and increased heart rate. There were no negative side effects, including a lack of psychotic symptoms, with just the CBD.
It Is Not Addictive
Some people may be hesitant to try CBD oil due to concerns that it will be addictive. After all, the plant it comes from is associated with addiction. The World Health Organization has confirmed that CBD is not addictive. That study went so far as to look at a dose of up to 600 milligrams, which is much more than most people will take for their migraines.
Additional Effects for Vaping
If you choose to vape CBD instead of using another method of consuming it, you may also experience lung irritation. That irritation can lead to issues breathing, wheezing, or a chronic cough. You may want to avoid vaping and choose a different method if you have any lung disease, including asthma.
The concern that affects more people is drug interactions. Unfortunately, CBD may negatively interact with some of the prescription or over-the-counter medications you take. It can interact with blood thinners, antidepressants, and antibiotics.
If you take any supplements or medication that you are not supposed to take with grapefruit, you may also have to avoid CBD. That is because CBD and grapefruit react to specific enzymes related to drug metabolism in the same way.
Always Discuss With Your Doctor
Think of CBD like you would any other supplement or medication and talk to your doctor before you start using it. Your doctor should be able to advise you about any potential negative interactions with your other medications or conditions. At the very least, they can let you know whether it is legal in your state. They may also be able to give you an idea about starting doses.
Avoid Mislabeled Products
Perhaps one of the biggest risks associated with using CBD for migraines is the lack of regulation. Remember that CBD is not officially approved to treat migraines, so the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate it. As such, some products will be mislabeled, with the most common mislabels being about the concentrations of CBD and other elements.
Avoid mislabeled products by doing your research. This is why looking for a certificate of analysis is so important. If it contradicts the information on the product, then look for a different option.
Legality of CBD
The legality of CBD is slightly complicated, as it depends on its source and where you are. On the federal level, CBD derived from hemp is legal as long as it has less than 0.3 percent of THC, but it is illegal if it is derived from marijuana. Some states, however, have their own regulations that counter the federal laws. If you live somewhere with recreational cannabis, any products should be legal as long as you are of age. The same should be true in states allowing medical cannabis, assuming you have a medical marijuana card.
You Can Combine CBD With Other Treatments
If you want, you can go ahead and try combining CBD with another more traditional treatment of migraine symptoms. Just be sure to discuss with your doctor before taking CBD in conjunction with another over-the-counter or prescription medication.
There should not be any issues, however, combining its use with other lifestyle changes, like managing stress, working to improve your sleep, avoiding bright lights and loud noises, and avoiding allergens.
The Future of CBD Oil for Migraines
There is a growing trend around the world to expand the legality of marijuana use. As the number of countries where it is legal grows, more research will likely be conducted, both on the plant as a whole and on individual components, including CBD. This should give us more research into how and why CBD can treat migraines.
Hopefully, future research into this natural substance will help experts understand how it provides relief for migraines and other conditions. It should also hopefully let us know whether the CBD provides relief or another component of cannabis is involved. Researchers will also likely explore whether CBD works best alone or in conjunction with other elements (which would be supported by the entourage effect already discussed).
Future research will also hopefully give migraine sufferers better advice on using CBD to treat their symptoms. This could help with factors such as frequency, the strength of the dose, and whether to use CBD as a preventative solution or a treatment.
Research on CBD and Migraines
Unfortunately, there is still minimal research on the ability of CBD to help relieve migraines. Research in general concerning this natural substance is still in its infancy.
To date, researchers have not published any studies showing how pure CBD affects migraines. Instead, most related studies look at CBD for pain in general, and these sometimes include migraine pain.
- Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. – 2017
This was a review of studies, which indicated that marijuana has a great deal of potential in treating migraines. The review did, however, indicate that we still need more research. It also did not include any information on CBD alone, only in combination with other cannabis-related compounds.
- European Academy of Neurology – 2017
One study that looked into migraines and CBD was presented at the 2017’s European Academy of Neurology’s third congress. This study had several phases. Phase I began with 48 people suffering from chronic migraines. They received a compound with CBD and THC, having either 19 percent or almost none of the latter, with the second compound containing 9 percent CBD. Doses of 100 mg did not improve pain, but increasing it to 200 mg reduced acute pain by 55 percent. In Phase II, the study focused on 79 patients suffering from cluster headaches or chronic migraine symptoms. They received either 25 mg of a tricyclic antidepressant, amitriptyline, or 200 mg of the combination from Phase I. This phase also had the participants from Phase I continue with 200 mg of the same or 480 mg of verapamil, a calcium channel blocker. This study found that the combination of CBD and THC reduced migraines by 40.4 percent with amitriptyline reducing them by 40.1 percent. Additionally, the combination reduced pain intensity by 43.5 percent. There were only slight improvements for cluster headaches, although some experienced a drop in intensity by 43.5 percent. That result only occurred for those who began experiencing migraines when they were children.
This led to the conclusion that cannabis components can help treat cluster migraines, but only if the attacks began when the sufferer was a child.
- Pharmacotherapy – 2016
A study published in Pharmacotherapy in 2016 looked into medicinal marijuana as a whole, not CBD specifically. Forty-eight participants were surveyed, and 39.7 percent indicated a reduction in migraine attacks. Negative effects were strongest for those who opted for edibles, and the biggest complaint was drowsiness. This study also showed that migraines reduced from about 10.4 to 4.6 each month.
- The Journal of Headache and Pain – 2018
A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain in 2018 had 2,032 participants with migraines, headaches, chronic pain, or arthritis as primary illnesses. The study found that most participants could use cannabis instead of their prescription medications and receive similar or better results. Each category of participants showed a preference for hybrid cannabis strains. Those suffering from migraines and headaches specifically preferred OG Shark, which has low CBD and high psychoactive concentrations.
- The Journal of Headache and Pain – 2012
In 2012, a group of Italian researchers examined a synthetic THC called nabilone and how it affects headache disorders. Twenty-six participants suffering from headaches due to medication overuse took 0.50 mg of nabilone or 400 mg of ibuprofen. Participants took one drug for eight weeks, took nothing for a week, and then switched. The study found that both produced results. Nabilone, however, delivered a better quality of life and more improvements to the participants. It lowered drug dependence and intensity of pain. However, neither drug affected the frequency of migraine headaches. The researchers behind the study hypothesized that this was due to the study’s short duration.
- University of Colorado
A study completed at the University of Colorado worked with 121 sufferers of regular migraine headaches, having them use medical marijuana daily as a migraine preventative. For around 40 percent of participants, the number of monthly migraines was halved. Participants could use the marijuana of their choice, but most inhaled it. Those who inhaled the cannabis found it frequently stopped the pain, with edibles working less reliably. Additionally, those who inhaled indicated that they had fewer effects and could better control the dosage.
- Care by Design – 2015
In 2015, Care by Design surveyed of those who suffer from migraines and use CBD for relief. They found that 100 percent of respondents in their survey experienced at least some relief from using CBD oil. However, 37 percent of respondents experienced at least some decrease in their energy levels as a result.
Research on CBD to Treat Other Conditions
Compared to the limited research on CBD for migraines, there is more research so far for other conditions. As with migraine-specific studies, most look into CBD combined with something else, including as whole cannabis or with its other elements. The following studies focus on CBD in particular.
- Elikottil, et. al. – 2009
One study published in 2009 found that cannabis compounds may help reduce pain in those who have long-term opioid use and want to reduce their dependence on pharmaceutical pain relief options.
- Journal of Experimental Medicine – 2012
This study found that CBD can help relieve certain chronic inflammation and pain conditions. The research included support for using CBD to treat multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
The Bottom Line
CBD is a non-psychoactive substance that naturally occurs in cannabis. It shows promise as a treatment for migraines, although research is still in the very early stages. Experts have started to find support for CBD treating a range of issues, from pain to nausea to inflammation, assisting those with migraines, and other conditions.
Legal versions of CBD should be available in your area, although they may have to be hemp-based, depending on where you live. Those in states with legal cannabis can also opt for marijuana-based CBD and can choose from isolates or products with the complete spectrum.
There is not a guarantee that you will experience relief from your migraines by using CBD, but there is a very strong chance. At the very least, this method is worth a try for those in search of a natural solution that has minimal to no effect. It may provide relief where traditional migraine treatments failed, or it can offer an alternative treatment that is free from negative effects.
To stay safe when using CBD to treat your migraines, always do your research and choose reputable products with independent testing results. You should also consult your doctor first to ensure that CBD will not negatively interact with any of your current medications.
When used properly, taking CBD can offer the relief that migraine sufferers are in search of, letting them function normally and go about their daily lives without fighting light sensitivity, headaches, auras, and other unwanted symptoms.