Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 120 substances in cannabis. It comes from the marijuana plant, but it contains only trace amounts, if any, of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high. This means it has no mind-altering (psychoactive) effects.
Still, for people who have yet to find an effective migraine treatment, it may be worth considering.
Anyone who wishes to use CBD should speak with a doctor before obtaining or using it. They should also check that the product comes from a from a reputable source, to ensure safety.
The legalities of cannabis products, including CBD oil, are changing quickly. People may need a prescription to use CBD oil legally in their state. A doctor can give a person advice on whether it is legal to use CBD oil in their area. Anyone wanting to use CBD oil should research the subject thoroughly.
Also, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not yet regulate most of the products that come from the marijuana, or cannabis, plant. This makes it difficult to ensure the quality, purity, and strength of ingredients.
Why would CBD oil work for migraines?
Cbd oil is popular for its pain-relieving benefits.
People used cannabis for thousands of years to treat headaches before it became illegal.
There is a lack of scientific evidence about its safety and effectiveness for this purpose, but researchers have suggested that one or more substances present in cannabis may have therapeutic benefit for headaches, including migraines.
It is important to remember that many of the studies may use the entire marijuana plant, and its effects are different than CBD oil.
In a review of studies, published in 2017, researchers saw a useful and effective role for marijuana in treating migraine, but there are not enough studies on using CBD oil specifically yet. Some states have a list of specific conditions that are suitable for treatment with CBD oil, and migraines may not be on that list.
As the studies come in examining the effectiveness and side effects of CBD oil, there will be further changes in laws and recommendations.
Both the causes of migraines and the possible effects of CBD remain unclear. More studies specific to the components of marijuana, such as CBD, are necessary.
What does the research say?
CBD oil may be an option for pain relief.
Authors of a study from 2012 suggest that CBD oil can help to relieve some types of chronic pain. However, the study did not relate specifically to headaches or migraines.
Results of a 2016 study indicate that medical marijuana may reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. This research was not specific to CBD oil. More research is needed to determine what dosage and formulation are most effective.
Authors of a 2009 study found evidence to suggest that cannabis compounds may treat chronic pain in people who have been taking opioids for long periods and want to reduce use.
In July 2018, an Australian study did not find a link between the use of cannabis and a reduction in pain or a lower use of opioids.
However, the results depended on participants reporting their own use of cannabis, and most of this was illegal use. It also focused on the effects of cannabis as a whole, rather than CBD or another specific cannabinoid.
Cannabis products are not legal in all U.S. states.
Some states have legalized the medical use of some cannabis products. Which products, how to obtain them, and for what conditions differs from state to state.
However, most products available do not have approval, which means the user cannot always be sure the product is safe.
Certain states specifically allow for CBD oil usage if the product contains little THC. In some cases, CBD oil is legal, even when medical marijuana is not.
Laws vary widely. The official website of each state will provide reliable information.
Alternatively, talk to a doctor about CBD and whether it is safe and legal to use.
How is CBD oil used?
The ways of using CBD include:
- as an ingredient in food or drinks
- in capsule form
- by inhaling or vaping, but there are specific dangers to the lungs and reported risks of toxicity
- as a topical application for the skin
- in drops or sprays used in the mouth
No studies involving humans have investigated the effects of CBD oil on migraines, so there is no standard dosage or method.
However, a doctor in an area where CBD oil is legal may be able to recommend a safe, low dosage to start with. The best recommendation is to start on a very low dose and see if it is effective.
One of the most significant risks concerns the lack of regulation.
Cannabis products and CBD do not have FDA approval for the treatment of migraine. As a result, there is no control over the potency of CBD oil before marketing and sale in the U.S. for most uses.
A 2017 research letter published in JAMA noted that CBD products sometimes have incorrect labeling. Some contain more CBD than stated, others contain less, and some contain significant amounts of the psychoactive substance, THC.
Authors of a 2014 review of studies concerning CBD raised concerns about the lack of regulation, pointing out that consumers cannot be sure what they are taking when CBD products "are not subject to regulations governing labeling, purity, and reliability."
Other treatments for migraines
Over-the-counter or prescription medications may be recommended for treating migraines.
For most health conditions, including migraine, a health provider is likely to recommend other proven treatments before CBD oil.
Identifying and avoiding migraine triggers can reduce the frequency of migraines. Strategies could include:
- stress management
- avoiding allergens or bright lights
- following sleep enhancing practices
No treatment works for everyone, but some medications can reduce the frequency of migraines and diminish the intensity once they start.
Approved migraine treatments include:
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- combined medicines that contain a pain reliever and caffeine
- prescription medications that help to block migraine pain, such as triptans and ergots
- drugs that help to prevent migraines, including beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications
- Botox treatment
Many people try a few treatments before finding one that works. Effective treatment might involve a combination of approaches.
Working closely with a health provider and keeping track of the frequency and intensity of migraines can help a person to discover the best treatment.
Takeaway and when to see a doctor
Anyone who experiences migraines should speak with a doctor, who will be able to suggest treatment options.
Individuals should consult a doctor before trying CBD oil or any natural supplements or therapies.
Some herbal medications, including cannabis and CBD oil, can have dangerous interactions with other medicines.
I have seen websites that talk about choosing different kinds of cannabis to treat a headache. What would you recommend?
There is some research on marijuana and migraines, but not enough to specifically recommend potency, dosage, or frequency.
Someone with chronic migraines who wants to reduce reliance on medication might choose marijuana products, such as CBD oil.
Because there are no specific studies, then recommendations found on websites like this are not based on science. These statements might be the personal experience of only one person, or someone might have created them from nothing as a marketing ploy.
Regardless, there is no way to test the truth of those statements.Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.