Migraines are severe headaches that happen repeatedly and can bring intense pain along with other tough symptoms like sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, and even pain when coughing or sneezing. Dealing with migraines can make it hard to handle everyday tasks. While there are many ways to treat migraines, like medicines, injections, supplements, and acupuncture, scientists are studying cannabidiol (CBD) to see if it could be another option.

Keep reading to find out more about using CBD for migraines, what good things it might do, what risks it carries, and how it could offer relief.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine is a specific type of headache known for causing moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain, typically felt on one side of the head. However, the pain can also occur on both sides, at the front or back of the head, around the eyes, or behind the cheeks.

Common symptoms of migraines include:

  • Moderate to severe head pain that throbs or pounds
  • Head pain that worsens with movement
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and smells

“Migraines go beyond simple headaches, and their causes are complex and not fully understood,” explains Jessica Cho, M.D., who works as an integrative medicine physician and internist at Wellness at Century City in Los Angeles. According to Dr. Cho, migraines occur when specific nerves in the blood vessels send signals of pain to the brain, triggering the release of painful inflammatory substances.

Migraines are classified as a neurological disorder and affect approximately 15% of the population, according to research published in the Journal of Headache and Pain. Dr. Cho highlights that due to the range of symptoms that can hinder people from completing daily tasks, migraines rank as the sixth most disabling disease globally.

Studies indicate that migraines can have a genetic component, but certain factors and substances can also act as triggers for the condition. These triggers include hormonal changes in women, stress, anxiety, strong smells, loud noises, bright or flashing lights, specific medications, overuse of medications, excessive physical activity, sudden weather changes, irregular sleep patterns, tobacco use, caffeine intake or withdrawal, as well as consumption of alcohol, monosodium glutamate (MSG), chocolate, aged cheeses, fermented foods, yeast, and processed meats.

The Science of CBD and Its Relief for Migraines

CBD is a well-known compound found in hemp and cannabis sativa plants. Unlike delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes a psychoactive high, CBD doesn’t have intoxicating effects.

Recent research suggests that cannabis, including CBD and THC, may offer relief for headaches and migraines. A 2021 literature review found that a combination of CBD and THC showed promising results for both short-term and long-term relief in migraine sufferers.

Studies focusing solely on CBD indicate its potential as a treatment for chronic pain. A survey by Axon Relief, a company developing migraine relief products, suggested that CBD could reduce the frequency of migraine days and mitigate the impact of migraines. While more research is necessary, the American Migraine Foundation suggests that CBD oil might be a helpful topical solution for neck and joint pain often associated with migraines.

In addition to pain relief, CBD may also help alleviate nausea and inflammation, which are common symptoms of migraines, according to Chantel Strachan, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician and headache specialist at ColumbiaDoctors and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York.

How Does CBD Work

CBD’s potential benefits for migraines appear promising due to its interaction with the body’s endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), according to Michael Lewis, M.D., president and founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute and medical advisor at CV Sciences, Inc., a company researching and developing CBD products.

The ECS is a neuromodulatory system that contributes to the development of the central nervous system and the body’s response to internal and external threats. Cannabinoids, such as CBD, engage with the ECS through receptors distributed throughout the body. Dr. Lewis explains that when cannabinoids interact with these receptors, cells may reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, or induce feelings of well-being.

Furthermore, clinical evidence indicates that individuals experiencing chronic migraines (defined as having at least 15 headache days per month) often exhibit lower levels of endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters naturally present in the body that bind to cannabinoid receptors. This observation suggests a potential mechanism through which CBD could provide benefits to migraine sufferers.

Potential Risks of Using CBD to Treat Migraines

Although CBD is generally well-tolerated by most individuals, it can lead to the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight

For those seeking relief from migraines through CBD, Dr. Cho advises caution regarding its long-term use, especially at the same dose. “Certain research indicates a tolerance problem that becomes less effective with time.,” she explains. Dr. Strachan also warns that prolonged CBD usage may result in other symptoms, such as mood swings and memory issues.

It’s worth noting that while extended use of conventional migraine treatments is associated with medication overuse headaches in about 15% of migraine sufferers, research hasn’t indicated the same effect with CBD. However, it’s essential to remain mindful of potential side effects when considering CBD as a migraine treatment option.

Legality

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp-derived CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. However, access to CBD varies across states, depending on their adoption of the Farm Bill. Some states allow easy purchase and possession of CBD, while others restrict access or mainly offer it online.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) cautions athletes against using over-the-counter CBD products due to potential risks of THC contamination from manufacturing and regulation issues.

Regulation

Dr. Cho highlights that over-the-counter CBD products lack FDA approval and are not subject to medical regulatory compliance, making it impossible to guarantee their safety and legality. There are concerns regarding the accuracy and reliability of the dosage and purity listed on product labels.

While not mandatory, many CBD products, such as gummies and oils, come with a certificate of analysis (COA). This certificate ensures third-party testing, meaning an independent laboratory tested the product to verify its potency and ensure it is free of harmful contaminants like pesticides, molds, and heavy metals. Some COAs can be accessed by scanning a QR code on the product, while others are available online through the company’s website. If a product’s COA is not readily available, consumers can request it from the company before making a purchase.

Is CBD Beneficial for Migraines?

If you’re considering using CBD for migraines, Dr. Strachan suggests considering several factors:

  • Other health conditions or diseases you may have
  • Previous migraine treatment medications you’ve tried
  • Current medications you’re taking

Dr. Strachan warns that CBD can interact with certain medications, such as thyroid medications and blood thinners, so it’s crucial to assess your current medication regimen.

Dr. Lewis recommends using CBD before the onset of a migraine if possible. He suggests that if you know your triggers, such as stress, changes in weather, or sensitivity to certain foods, medications, or situations, using CBD preemptively may help prevent the onset of a migraine.

If preventing migraine isn’t feasible, Dr. Lewis suggests using CBD—whether inhaled, as a tincture or consumed as an edible—after a migraine has begun. He advises using CBD alongside other established migraine treatments, such as prescribed medications and resting in a dark, quiet room.

Dr. Lewis emphasizes that using CBD products is a personal choice. For individuals seeking a more natural solution for migraines, CBD can be a beneficial option. However, it’s essential to consider individual health factors and consult with a healthcare provider before starting CBD treatment for migraines.

Consult Your Physician

Dr. Cho emphasizes the importance of consulting a doctor who is knowledgeable about CBD science and research before using CBD for migraines. This ensures the most personalized medical care regarding its application, dosage, legality, and quality assurance.

Additionally, doctors can verify the pharmaceutical-grade status of a CBD product and monitor individuals for any potential interactions with other medications or health conditions.

Talking to a doctor who understands CBD can help ensure safe and effective use of CBD for migraine treatment.