Can CBD Oil Treat a Migraine?

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With the laws governing the legal use of medical marijuana beginning to loosen up, there’s quite a bit of focus on the use of CBD oil—a component of the marijuana plant—for treating everything from arthritis to chronic pain, including migraines. But what is CBD oil, and does it really work to relieve migraine headaches?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of over 100 different substances found in the the Cannabis sativa plant. The portion of the cannabis plant that produces a high (the psychotropic effect) is called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Depending on how it’s processed, CBD oil contains very little (or is completely void of) THC.

Due to the pervasiveness and debilitating effects of migraine headaches, there’s been a lot of clinical research aimed at trying to find an effective treatment to minimize the frequency of migraines and alleviate the pain.

Medical experts currently consider the pain from a migraine headache the result of intense stimulation to sensory nerves—a response to inflammatory agents which are released when a migraine occurs. This would explain why powerful analgesic and anti-inflammatory agents, such as CBD oil, may be effective in the treatment of migraines.

Properties of CBD Oil That Relieve Migraine

  • Potent analgesic (pain relieving) properties
  •  Antiemetic (preventing nausea and vomiting) properties
  •  Powerful anti-inflammatory effects

CBD oil has gotten a lot of attention for its powerful pain-relieving properties, particularly since cannabis use is becoming legal in many states (33 as of October 2019, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but details vary). In June 2018, the FDA approved CBD for the first time for a new seizure medication called Epidiolex (cannabidiol) [CBD] oral solution.

Research

According to a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacy, while there are many experts who advocate for the use of CBD oil for migraines, there is still not enough evidence to prove that treatment will CBD oil will be completely effective for alleviating migraine headaches. 

The researchers add that given time, as the legalities around medical marijuana and CBD oil change, more research may be able to show that CBD oil works well enough and consistently enough to treat migraines.

“Cannabinoids—due to their anticonvulsive, analgesic, antiemetic, and anti-inflammatory effects —present a promising class of compounds for both acute [short-term, severe] and prophylactic [preventative] treatment of migraine pain," explained lead study author Pinja Leimuranta, of the University of Eastern Finland. Although the researchers say that we are not completely there yet, they add that CBD oil can “absolutely help relieve some symptoms related to migraines.”

While few clinical research studies have examined the use of CBD to treat migraines, a 2016 study, published in Pharmacotherapy, found that the frequency of migraines was reduced from nearly 10 per month to only approximately four per month in a group of medical marijuana users. Research presented in 2017 at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology showed that cannabinoids might help prevent migraines as well as easing the pain of migraine headache.

Additionally, a 2017 review of cannabis treatment for headaches outlined existing research, patient surveys, and case reports showing the efficacy of cannabis for migraine and other headache disorders. A 2018 review described experimental evidence for the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of migraine as well as other headaches and chronic pain.

Uses and Safety

Previous research studies have shown that CBD oil, unlike THC, does not cause a euphoric high or psychotropic effects, and is typically less controversial and safer for medicinal use. CBD oil has been shown, in a limited number of studies, to be effective in the treatment of many disorders, including diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and migraines. 

The type of cannabis that CBD is composed of is well tolerated and safe in humans. In one study, when cannabis with THC was given to study subjects, they experienced an increased heart rate, anxiety, and psychotic symptoms. However, participants who took CBD oil—lacking THC—did not experience side effects (including psychotic symptoms).

Should You Use It?

Anyone considering the use of CBD oil for migraines should consult with their healthcare provider before taking it. It’s important to note that not all sources of the product are reputable.

Prescription drugs with CBD do not have any THC at all. But many over-the-counter CBD oil products, such as those sold online, contain trace amounts of THC.

Another important action step to take before deciding to use CBD oil is to check to ensure that it is legal in your home state. Many states still consider even the prescribed use of CBD oil illegal, due to its link to marijuana. And the FDA has not approved any CBD products (prescription or over-the-counter), aside from Epidiolex.

This certainly does not indicate that people with migraines should stop searching for an effective treatment to alleviate pain and discomfort, nor should they give up hope. There are many proven effective solutions available for those who suffer from migraine headaches.

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  2. Leimuranta P, Khiroug L, Giniatullin R. Emerging role of (endo)cannabinoids in migraine. Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:420. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00420

  3. Rhyne DN, Anderson SL, Gedde M, Borgelt LM. Effects of medical marijuana on migraine headache frequency in an adult population. Pharmacotherapy. 2016;36(5):505-10. doi:10.1002/phar.1673

  4. Martin-Santos R, Crippa JA, Batalla A, et al. Acute effects of a single, oral dose of d9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) administration in healthy volunteers. Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(32):4966-79. doi:10.2174/138161212802884780

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