Anyone who’s ever had a migraine knows the pain of being completely unable to function. It feels like your head is splitting and every bit of light hurts your eyes. For some people, migraines mean having to take a few days off work each month or miss out on social activities. For others, it means relying on powerful and sometimes dangerous painkillers. CBD provides a safer and surprisingly efficient alternative to the most common methods of treatment for migraines. Here’s what it does, its limitations, and how you can start using it as a migraine treatment.
What are migraines and why do we get them?
A migraine is a type of headache that is categorized by pulsating pain, usually on just one side of the head. As well as intense head pain, people who suffer from them will usually experience extreme sensitivity to light and noise. They often need to rest in a dark room until the migraine passes, and may sometimes experience partial vision loss. In some extreme cases, the nausea caused by the pain will even result in vomiting. Needless to say, migraines are a debilitating condition that stops sufferers from functioning normally.
So why do some people suffer from regular migraines while others go their whole lives without experiencing one? Scientists believe that genetics play an important role. If many people in your family suffer from migraines, then you are more likely to experience them as well.
Other factors, such as problems in the nerve pathways and chemical imbalances in the brain, also play a role.
While we don’t know for sure what causes migraines in some people, there are a couple of known triggers. These include:
- Lack of sleep
- Hormonal changes
- Medications (birth control pills, for example)
- Lifestyle choices (for example, drinking alcohol or eating processed foods)
For people who frequently suffer from migraines, identifying and trying to prevent triggers is one of the most effective ways to stop migraines. Here are some other treatment options.
Treatment options for migraines
When people seek treatment for migraines, they are often prescribed painkillers. These include medications like aspirin or ibuprofen and prescription drugs like triptans and ergots. However, many people don’t get complete relief from these medications alone.
That’s why health professionals will usually combine these medications with other strategies to prevent migraines. These include relaxation and stress management methods. They may even include things like anxiety or depression medication. Finally, Botox treatments and things like acupuncture are sometimes effective in preventing migraines.
It’s not rare for people to try quite a few different treatment options before managing to get proper relief. But many more people have yet to find a cure for their migraines. For them, CBD for migraines may seem like a good solution. It is an alternative to other popular methods of treatments and is safe for anyone to try.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. It is known for a range of medicinal properties, including reducing pain, inflammation and seizures. To make CBD oil, the substance is extracted from the cannabis plant, activated, and diluted in a carrier oil. Unlike other forms of cannabis, CBD is used almost solely for its medicinal properties. Unlike marijuana, it doesn’t contain any THC, the psychoactive substance of the cannabis plant. So while it can definitely have effects on your body, CBD won’t alter your mind and won’t make you feel high.
CBD is legal on a federal level in the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC. However, it is still prohibited by certain state laws and doesn’t have FDA approval. We encourage you to consult a physician before you start taking CBD.
How does CBD fight and prevent migraines?
Before CBD was known, and before scientists came up with migraine-specific painkillers, people often smoked marijuana to fight headaches. This naturally occurring plant is actually one of the safest and most popular painkillers in the plant kingdom. With few side effects, it provides almost instant relief at a low cost. The downside? It makes you high and is not always compatible with going about your daily business. For this reason, in a majority of countries it is also still illegal.
With none of the psychoactive effects but much of the same painkilling effects, CBD for migraines can be a good alternative to medical marijuana. It has often been found to reduce pain, especially inflammatory pain in cases such as arthritis.
Although the exact effects of CBD on the body still need to be researched more, we know that CBD is effective thanks to its action on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This biological system is responsible for regulating mood, pain, inflammation and the immune system. This means that cannabinoids like CBD can help with a lot of different issues.
The main issues involved in the case of migraines is pain management and inflammation. CBD has been extensively studied and found to be powerful in alleviating chronic pain in the case of neuralgia or arthritis, for example. Ingesting CBD for migraines generally provides some relief from pain, but it may not be sufficient for everyone.
What’s interesting about CBD for migraines, however, is that it doesn’t just relieve pain. It might actually help to prevent them. With factors such as stress and sleep issues often named as triggers, CBD can help in more ways than one.
For starters, CBD has been found to help with chronic anxiety. People who take it every day often find that it helps them be more relaxed and less likely to have fits of stress, panic or anxiety. If CBD proves to be an effective anxiety relief for someone who gets migraines, it could act as a preventive.
Lack of sleep has also been linked with an increased risk of developing migraines. With a good track record of helping those with insomnia, CBD can also help promote more restful sleep. In turn, it might reduce the frequency of migraines.
When it comes to treating migraines, CBD can be of great help. Not only can it help in the moment by providing safe and non-toxic relief from pain, it can also help to prevent migraines in the long term.
However, while there is anecdotal evidence that CBD can help with headaches and migraines, the subject hasn’t been sufficiently researched yet. The most comprehensive studies on the topic have concluded that cannabis could be effective in treating migraines, but they didn’t isolate the CBD compound.
Does CBD have any side effects?
Compared to common medications for migraines, CBD has very few side effects. A few notable ones are:
- Changes in appetite
CBD has never been found to have any life-threatening side effects. However, some people do find that it does not agree with them, either because it makes them nauseous, alters their mood slightly, or makes them hungry.
What is more worrying, however, is the quality of CBD. With a recent boom in the market, there have been many companies claiming to manufacture real CBD oil for a fraction of the traditional price. More often than not, there are some issues with the quality, purity and potency of these products.
When purchasing CBD, it’s very important to check for quality. A reputable CBD oil company should provide clients with a certificate of analysis. This is an official document issued by an independent laboratory, which confirms that the potency and the purity of the CBD oil are up to standards.
How to use CBD for migraines?
CBD for migraines comes in a variety of forms. For example, you’ll find it in capsule form, as a vaping oil, in mouth sprays or as an ingredient in edibles. For conditions such as migraines, which are occasional and acute, people usually prefer sprays or drops placed under the tongue. These are able to enter the bloodstream much more quickly than other types of products and will therefore provide faster relief.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been enough clinical studies on CBD for migraines to establish dosage guidelines. What is generally recommended when taking CBD for pain management is to start with a low dose (around 10 mg) to see how well the substance is tolerated (for example, it could cause nausea in some people). If there are no issues, the person is free to increase the dosage progressively until they find the relief that they need.
Although CBD has been studied extensively in recent years, its use in treating migraines is currently under-researched. However, the success of CBD for other pain, sleep, and anxiety-related conditions suggests that it may be effective in fighting and preventing migraines. To those who are yet to find a solution to these agonizing headaches, CBD is a source of hope. We are still waiting for more conclusive clinical research. But as a safe substance with only a few side effects, CBD is certainly worth trying out alongside other migraine treatments.
2017 review of the use of cannabis on headache disorders
2016 study on the effects of CBD on rat arthritis
2018 review of research on cannabinoids and pain
2019 study on CBD for anxiety and sleep
2019 study on CBD for anxiety and sleep