Around 15% of people around the world suffer from migraines either occasionally or on a regular basis.
In the US alone, around 39 million people report migraines every year. They are listed as the fifth most common reason for emergency room visits across the country.
Migraines are intensely painful and often debilitating for those who suffer from them. So it’s no surprise that any new potential remedy is jumped on.
One of the newest arrivals on the potential migraine treatment scene is CBD. A cannabis-derivative more properly known as cannabidiol, CBD is used by people around the world to address all sorts of conditions.
But is taking CBD for headaches a good idea? What about CBD for migraines? Let’s find out.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol is one of more than 120 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are a type of organic compound.
Little is known about many of these cannabinoids. But cannabidiol – better known as CBD – and tetrahydrocannabinol – better known as THC – are the two that have had the most research done on them at this point in time.
CBD, in part due to the fact that it is non-intoxicating and non-addictive, has become something of a global sensation.
How does CBD work?
Your body has an endocannabinoid system. This is a series of chemical “locks” and receptors that your body’s endocannabinoid chemicals can bind with to “unlock” certain effects. This might include having an effect on your mood, the way you experience pain or your appetite.
But cannabinoids from outside of the body can have an effect on this system too. Most importantly, the phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants) found in cannabis. CBD, in particular, is used as:
- A method of pain relief
- An anti-emetic
- An anti-inflammatory
- An anti-convulsant
Does CBD help headaches?
Some of your body’s endocannabinoid receptors are found in the brain. One particular endocannabinoid, known as anandamide – a cannabinoid produced by your body – is known to target some of the same pathways as a particular class of medications used to treat headaches and migraines.
There is also evidence that CBD reduces pain and inflammation – though most of this research has been done on animals. Part of the way CBD does this appears to be through suppressing the release of certain proteins linked to inflammation and pain.
An overall review of the subject published in Current Opinion in Neurology observed that CBD may be able to play a role in reducing migraine pain but also that more research was needed.
Taking CBD oil for migraines – can it help?
For most people, the first steps of migration prevention and treatment are the classics. Lifestyle changes. Addressing potentially related conditions like stress.
For frequent migraines that occur weekly or more often, medications are usually called for. Could CBD be any kind of replacement for that?
It’s not quite yet safe to say – a lot of research still needs to be done. Ideally, most medical professionals and researchers will tell you, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.
While we’re waiting for the lab results, so to speak, the jury is largely still out on whether CBD can help with headaches and migraines or not. But there do seem to be at least two ways CBD can help with migraines:
- Prevention rather than cure – there is some anecdotal evidence of CBD successfully being used for headache management, especially when used as a preventative measure. This seems to be because CBD can act to relieve stress and anxiety, two of the leading causes of headaches and potential contributory factors to migraines.
- Anti-inflammatory – there is also the observation that many over-the-counter migraine medications are designed to reduce inflammation. That’s something that CBD also seems to be very good at. But again, the research isn’t quite there to definitively say yes yet.
The American Migraine Foundation – who should be in a position to know if anybody should – has stated that CBD may be an option for migraine treatment when applied topically. This is because it can reduce the joint and muscle pain often associated with migraines
However, CBD is a component part of another medication that seems to show even greater positive indications when being treated as potential migraine relief: medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana for migraines
Most studies published on the subject at the time of writing have extrapolated that CBD alone might be beneficial for headaches from the fact that medical marijuana as a whole – or a combination of THC and CBD – has seen positive results when used by migraine sufferers:
- A 2016 study found that medical marijuana seemed to reduce the frequency of migraines.
- A 2017 review pointed to positive initial findings and indicated that further research should be done.
- A 2018 research review found that medical marijuana addressed migraine pain as well as other types of pain.
How to apply CBD oil for headaches
Using CBD oil for headache pain seems to work best when applied topically. Taking CBD orally does not seem to have the same effects.
The neck area seems to be the target for topical application, as this is usually the area where pain often stems from for headache and migraine sufferers. Again, it is CBD’s quality as a stress reliever that seems to be of use here.
Should I try CBD?
CBD does not sedate you, intoxicate you, encourage cravings or make you addicted. This means that taking CBD oil for headaches can usually be experimented with safely.
However, if you have chronic migraines, even if you want to try using CBD in a preventative capacity, it is well worth speaking to your doctor first. For chronic sufferers, even changing the balance of vitamins in your body and your diet can have a big effect on your preventative regime.