Because of its pain-relieving properties, CBD is becoming more popular as an all-natural option for mitigating migraines and headaches. Its properties make it well suited to assist with the head pain and discomfort these problems stimulate and their underlying inflammatory causes. Some are now taking CBD for migraines as a natural alternative treatment to pharmaceutical painkillers such as NSAIDs. It is better tolerated and offers lower side effect risks for many while still being efficacious in counteracting headache symptoms. Although there is currently little clinical evidence for CBD’s therapeutic properties in treating migraines, anecdotes from users are providing insight into its beneficial potential. Let’s examine how CBD helps with migraines, whether it is a suitable remedy for headaches and how to use it appropriately.
- 1 What is CBD?
- 2 What Causes Headaches and Migraines?
- 3 Can CBD Help With Migraines and Heaches?
- 4 Evidence for CBD’s Migraine and Headache Benefits
- 5 How to Use CBD for Migraines
- 6 Is CBD an Alternative for Conventional Medication?
- 7 Risks and Side Effects
- 8 FAQs
- 9 Conclusion
What is CBD?
The cannabis plant is rich in natural bioactive compounds called cannabinoids. Many of these have therapeutic or helpful health benefits in the mind or body. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the primary cannabinoids which is used for medicinal purposes such as anxiety reduction and pain relief. It’s extracted from hemp and typically consumed in an oil. Today, CBD is legal in Australia and can be purchased without a prescription after adjusted regulations in 2021 to reflect its safety plus usefulness in health.
CBD activates your endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of cannabinoid receptors throughout the body. These receptors occur in both the organs and tissues of the body, as well as the brain and nervous system. The ECS influences metabolic processes and neurological signalling through neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin. Unlike THC, CBD isn’t psychoactive and has no risk of causing mental illness like psychosis. It’s been well-documented for its high degree of safety, non-addictive characteristics and valuable health properties. It does not cause a ‘high’ and has few side effects. Because of its potent anti-neuroinflammation and analgesic properties, it has applications in assisting with managing migraines or headaches.
What Causes Headaches and Migraines?
Headaches and migraines are characterised by uncomfortable and often painful sensations in the head. The physical feelings for migraines and headaches can be experienced as a throbbing ache, dull pain or even a sharp, stabbing sensation. These feelings can occur in one or multiple parts of the head. In worst cases, they can cause nausea, vomiting and debilitation. The specific cause of these conditions has yet to be entirely understood. Certain genetic predispositions, hormone changes and stress may all play a part.
Some people are much more susceptible to migraines in particular. In many cases, those who experience them will have ‘cluster’ migraines, where multiple migraines co-occur, which can occur over multiple days. This can be extremely painful. Hearing or vision loss is reported by many who encounter severe migraines. They can also cause sensitivities to sound and light. Most migraines happen due to inherited factors or genes. Women are also three times more likely to get them than men.
Headaches are less severe and more manageable. They usually last less than several hours. There are several types of headaches, but the most common is a ‘stress’ headache, which generally results from excess stress or poor sleep.
Can CBD Help With Migraines and Heaches?
While the evidence is currently limited, the proven properties of CBD in lowering inflammation and helping to suppress pain mean it can likely help in mitigating migraine and headaches.
The most helpful effect of CBD in helping to block migraines and headaches is its ability to provide pain relief. In particular, it prevents pain signals from being delivered via brain nociceptors (pain receptors). It can also act on TRPV1 or vanilloid receptors and modulate them to lower pain sensations. These effects occur via the endocannabinoid system and its pain-regulating functions. After binding with cannabinoid receptors in this system, CBD causes endocannabinoids that provide these pain-relieving effects to be released.
A study from 2016 in the Journal of Pharmacotherapy explored CBD’s capacity to lower migraine pain and frequency. In subjects dosed with CBD, reported instances of migraines occurring halved from around 10 to 5 per month. This study didn’t test CBD alone but combined it with THC and other cannabinoids. This is because these two cannabinoids are synergistic when treating pain. Combining them amplifies their mutual benefits in blocking pain and its symptoms. Although this study didn’t isolate CBD to identify its actual effects on headaches, it did emphasise CBD formed a potent part of the remedy for patients involved.
Analysis of other studies into the application of CBD in headache pains has arrived at similar conclusions. Because CBD can lower pain-signalling, its capacity to reduce head pain is substantial. For example, a 2021 study examined the effects of CBD in combination with THC for migraines, anxiety, plus headaches. It noted that pain symptoms were reduced amongst test subjects across several separate trials for migraines, with benefits seen in both short and long-term pain forms. Compared to traditional pharmaceutical painkillers, this may be where cannabinoids like CBD excel. They can be applied for migraines and other sources of pain for long periods without causing toxicity or side effect risks to increase. Chemicals like NSAIDs, on the other hand, can’t be used sustainably due to their liver toxicity.
Beyond helping to mitigate pain sensations from migraines, CBD also assists with protecting the brain from them occurring because of its neuroprotective qualities. The cannabinoid is well known for its ability to treat epilepsy conditions, helping to prevent seizures caused by excitatory activity in neurons. It’s even being studied as a potential medication for Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease. Within the brain, it has several critical neurological effects, which make it ideal for strengthening the health and function of brain cells. For example, it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects, which help prevent neuroinflammation and degeneration of neurons from oxidative stress. Similarly, it can aid
Additionally, CBD modulates GABA and serotonin activity via endocannabinoids, helping to normalise neurotransmitter levels. GABA, in particular, is an essential neurotransmitter for headaches. Because it is inhibitory, GABA stimulation may help inhibit the excitatory brain activity before a headache strikes. Studies have linked glutamate and GABA to the occurrence of migraines. Too little or too much of these vital brain chemicals can raise the risk of migraines triggering as the brain is out of balance and flow on excitatory effects occur across neurotransmitter sites. Avoiding these issues by balancing GABA is a crucial way that CBD helps to prevent migraines.
There is undoubtedly a strong link between neurogenic inflammation in the brain and the risk of migraines occurring. Research has directly connected symptoms of neuroinflammation and excessive cytokine production in the brain with heightened exposure to migraine occurrence. The immune system produces cytokines, the primary inflammatory compounds that stimulate the inflammatory response. Too much cytokine activity in the brain can cause damage to neurons, impairing their function and contributing to neuroinflammation. In turn, brain cells can misfire or experience dysregulation, leading to migraine risks.
Fortunately, CBD can help counteract these problems and protect neurons from overactive inflammatory activity. Endocannabinoids like anandamide produced by the ECS are responsible for these effects. These chemicals help to downregulate immune reactions that stimulate too many cytokines to be created, which can result in headaches from inflammation. Some studies have shown CBD’s ability to lower inflammation is more potent than that of many pharmaceuticals like aspirin and tramadol. These effects may explain why people with migraines are increasingly turning to CBD instead of reaching for their pharmaceuticals when a migraine strikes.
Evidence for CBD’s Migraine and Headache Benefits
There is strong evidence from research that CBD contributes to reducing pain and inflammation from migraines or headaches. Typically, this has been as part of a broader cannabis medication protocol, including THC, but signals are still positive.
A major meta-analysis of studies using medical cannabis to treat headaches and migraines explored 12 publications that included tests on over 1900 individual patients. This analysis found medications containing cannabinoids like CBD reduced the severity and frequency of migraines. Migraine symptoms were reduced in 40% of patients, while they completely cleared in 12%.
In 2017, a separate study was performed on 23 healthy adults suffering from migraines. This study indicated medical cannabis alleviated migraines better than pharmacological treatments such as NSAIDs by around 25%. It offered better relief from symptoms while sustaining this relief and symptom control for much longer.
Additional clinical trials in 2019 and 2020 have corroborated these findings, adding further weight to the evidence for CBD’s benefits in helping with migraines. The 2019 trial from Canada examined the efficacy of inhaled cannabis usage in treating headaches and migraines. In the tested population, headache severity and frequency were reduced by 47%. Migraines were similarly lowered by 50% amongst subjects. Interestingly, this review found the medication more effective for migraines among males than females.
Similar results were seen in the 2020 trial performed on 68 adults who used medical cannabis over several months as a treatment for migraines. This trial aimed to understand the relation between medication dosage and effectiveness for migraines by comparing the dose levels of those who experienced reduced migraines versus those who saw less benefit. It found that treated subjects suffered from fewer migraines, had fewer negative symptoms, had boosted sleep quality and relied less on pharmaceutical medications. These results were hugely positive, even indicating cannabis could be well-positioned as an alternative for certain painkillers where overuse headaches became a problem from their excessive consumption.
How to Use CBD for Migraines
There are a few factors to consider if you’re looking to try CBD for headaches or migraines.
Every individual will react differently to cannabinoids like CBD and see different effectiveness for their migraine symptoms. Experimentation of dosage, timing of your doses and frequency of use is vital to finding the best approach. Finding the optimal dose can take some time. A good aim is to seek out the lowest possible dose possible, which will help with symptoms. Doing so will mean you can minimise your tolerance and prevent side effects from becoming a risk. A few drops a day of CBD oil for headaches is a great starting point for most. Titrate up after a few weeks until you reach an amount that works for your head pain symptoms.
The severity of migraine symptoms is a critical factor for many when choosing a dosage approach. For those with mild headaches, lower doses of CBD are often enough to mitigate symptoms. Low daily doses are typically considered to be under 150mg per day. However, depending on the individual, even less than 50mg could be efficacious. Stronger migraines generally need larger quantities of cannabinoids to be effective. At the same time, the side effect risk increases from this approach. Taking high doses is often necessary when migraines are aggressive or persistent. Check-in with your doctor in either case, as they can help match a dosage approach to your migraine symptoms.
Timing your CBD doses can have an impact on the success you see in mitigating headaches or migraines. In some people, using CBD if you start to feel a headache or migraine coming on is most effective in helping with more acute symptoms. This method is often best because CBD’s peak strength and effects occur after 2-3 hours of ingestion, meaning its absorption will be optimally timed to counteract your headache symptoms as they occur. Many will take CBD ‘as needed’ following this method, where it’s infrequently used similarly to ibuprofen for headaches.
For others, simply taking CBD every day helps to lower the incidence of migraines and prevents them from occurring. Daily usage enables the best activation of the endocannabinoid system to provide the most impactful results in reducing headache frequency. Using the cannabinoid as a preventative measure can be better than an ‘as needed’ approach because it’s often too late to take CBD if you’re already beginning to feel symptoms. This is also true due to the delayed onset of CBD after it is digested and absorbed in the body, which can take some time.
Many CBD product types, including CBD tinctures, gummies, vapes or sublingual, can each be effective in helping with headaches. Product choice comes down to your personal preference. Taking CBD via oil versus gummies will have little difference in its ability to help with your migraines or headaches. Each will provide you with the cannabinoids you need. The selection here should come down to what you prefer the taste of and can stay consistent with. For instance, if you don’t like the earthy taste of CBD oil, you might choose gummies to help mask it and provide a sweet flavour. Capsules can help to bypass the taste buds and provide CBD without any taste at all, which many people prefer. Try a few different products and see what suits you.
A key consideration in products when it comes to taking CBD for migraines is their rate of absorption. This is particularly true if you’re using it in a ‘just in time’ approach, as you will want to absorb the cannabinoid as fast as possible. The fastest absorbing ingestion methods are CBD vapes or sublingual. Vaping isn’t advisable because of its potential to harm your lungs. Sublingual will be the best option here, which you can also emulate by simply dropping CBD oil under your tongue to absorb it through the mouth lining. Sublingual ingestion is rapid due to its direct entry into the bloodstream. Using CBD gummies, edibles, oil, or capsules orally is slower due to digestion, so it may take too long to work if you need rapid relief.
Full-Spectrum CBD for Headaches
For headaches, most people see the best results using full-spectrum CBD products. There are a few reasons why. These products contain terpenes, potent scent molecules naturally created by cannabis. Many of these compounds have effects similar to CBD, which are anti-inflammatory for the brain and help relieve pain from migraines. Cannabis produces over 150 terpenes, many of which, like beta-caryophyllene, are now being studied for their antinociceptive or pain-relieving effects. Opting for full-spectrum CBD means you can obtain these complementary benefits, boosting the range of naturally analgesic compounds in your product, which help contribute to mitigating migraines.
In addition, terpenes amplify the potency of cannabinoids like CBD, which means they will be more productive in fighting headache symptoms. Terpenes like myrcene help shuttle cannabinoids to receptor sites and aid in receptor permeability for absorption. In turn, the effects and benefits of cannabinoids become amplified, a process known as the ‘entourage effect’. Studies have displayed these powerful synergistic therapeutic dynamics between terpenes and cannabinoids, which you can only obtain through full-spectrum CBD. This often means you can use less CBD for your headaches and still achieve great results due to the entourage effect. Your product will be more potent even at lower dosages. Its blend of other nutrients from hemp, like antioxidants and minerals, also benefits your body, supporting holistic health.
Finally, make sure you purchase high-quality CBD products. Quality products that are high strength don’t require as much dosage to mitigate migraine symptoms and can be used each day. Low-quality products are more likely to contain contaminants like solvents or be mislabelled. They often have little or no CBD and may offer little relief from headache symptoms.
Is CBD an Alternative for Conventional Medication?
A range of pharmaceutical medicines are already widely used for both migraines and headaches. This includes both over-the-counter or openly available drugs that help to lower inflammation or block pain, plus more potent prescription medicines that primarily target migraines. Some of these include:
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) help to lower inflammation and counteract head pain symptoms for migraines and headaches. Examples of these medications include ibuprofen and aspirin.
- Prescription Migraine Medications, such as triptans, help block migraine symptoms while combatting more severe forms of pain.
- Opioid Painkillers, such as oxycontin or codeine, are sometimes used to help with chronic or acute pain symptoms but can cause reliance.
- Anti-Nausea Medicines: Medications like metoclopramide and prochlorperazine can help relieve nausea associated with migraines.
Pharmacological medications for migraines are, unfortunately, highly prone to side effects, which can range from mild to severe. These side effect risks become heightened when the medicines are used for prolonged periods or in high doses. NSAIDs, for instance, can cause stomach ulcers or kidney damage if they are taken for too long, in addition to liver toxicity. Overuse headaches can occur and worsen migraines for these medicines if overconsumed.
Heavier-duty migraine drugs like triptans are powerful but correspondingly have more severe side effects. This includes raising the risk of blood pressure increases, heart attacks and strokes. Likewise, opiates can be highly dangerous when misused or taken for too long. While they can help with pain, they are highly addictive and can cause nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal problems if overused.
Cannabinoids like CBD have some crossover in their effects and benefits with these medicines, particularly NSAIDs. It functions on pathways similar to these compounds in the body, helping to nullify pain while reducing its signalling. In contrast, its side effects are far milder and rare. In many people, CBD will be a suitable replacement or alternative for NSAIDs or mild headache medications. Compared to more powerful triptans or opiates, though, it isn’t as strong or effective.
Does CBD Work for All Types of Migraines?
CBD won’t work for everyone or all types of headaches. It’s more suited to mild pain and headache symptoms. For severe migraines, it tends to be less productive. Most studies to date have also seen it combined with THC, which usually offers more significant pain relief than CBD when considering its usage for migraine pains.
Risks and Side Effects
CBD has a high degree of safety due to being non-psychoactive and entirely sourced from plants. Throughout clinical trials performed using it, CBD demonstrated very high tolerance in users. It does carry some minor side effect risks at high doses. These include dry mouth, drowsiness, diarrhoea or an upset stomach. More risks are present when CBD is taken with THC, which is psychoactive. Let’s look at some of the possible risks to know and avoid when using CBD for headaches.
Avoid Mixing Medications
If you’re already taking pharmaceuticals for migraines or headaches, it’s best to avoid mixing these with CBD. Many, like triptans and NSAIDs, are processed in the liver so that they can affect Cytochrome P450 enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for detoxification in the liver, meaning if their levels are impaired, and additional compounds like CBD are added into the mix, toxicity can occur. Ensure you confirm with your doctor any risks in taking CBD before you try it and don’t mix it with your other medications.
Using too much CBD is a crucial risk factor for worsening migraines or triggering other side effects. Although the side effect risk of CBD is low, it is exacerbated at high dosage levels. This is particularly true for new users who don’t have any tolerance to the cannabinoid. If you are a first-time CBD oil user, you need to start with a small dose of around 50 mg per day (several drops), and with time, you can gradually adjust the dosage as your body gets accustomed to it. Doing so enables you to gauge any intolerances and pick up on side effects early before they become an issue. Continuously monitor for signs your body may be reacting adversely and cease using the product if this occurs.
Lack of Independent Laboratory Testing
Consumers need to take caution around CBD product quality and look for products that offer third-party lab test results. These results give you objective information on the quality and potency of your product. It will list a breakdown of the cannabinoids and their concentrations within a ‘certificate of analysis’. This should be readily available on the seller’s website. As they’re from third-party laboratories, they can be relied on to be accurate and objective.
Cannabis plants from which CBD is extracted are highly absorbent and can quickly become contaminated if grown in soil containing toxins like heavy metals. This can subsequently make its way into your CBD product as a contaminant, which may cause headaches or other side effects. Be wary to only purchase CBD sourced from organically farmed hemp plants that are toxin-free to avoid this.
Low-Quality CBD Oil
The difference between a high- and low-quality CBD product is significant and has implications regarding factors like side effects and risk. Low-quality products are more likely to use filler additives, contain low cannabinoid content and have artificial flavours or preservatives added to them, which have detrimental health effects. Some will even use synthetic or fake ingredients to cut costs. These can exacerbate allergies and cause headaches and other health risks if consumed. Carrier oils used in the product can also increase headache risks.
Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that CBD offers benefits in mitigating migraine symptoms for some individuals. CBD has pain-blocking and neuroinflammation-reducing benefits through its complex interactions with the brain’s CB1 cannabinoid receptors. These receptors and the endocannabinoids they produce have a role in helping to modulate pain perception, reduce headache frequency and help to protect neurons from excitatory activity. While pain relief effects tend to be heightened when CBD is combined with THC, this can increase side effect risks due to THC’s psychoactivity.
Unlike THC-containing cannabis strains, CBD strains are bred from industrial hemp in Australia, which contains less than 0.3% THC. This ensures it is not psychoactive but can still provide therapeutic cannabinoid content from CBD. Although products produced from industrial hemp are safer and have less risk for mental harm because of their low THC content, they are not as effective for treating migraines. In clinical studies, the most efficacious cannabis medications in treating head pain from migraines were those containing a balance of THC and CBD, which were synergistic in alleviating pain symptoms.
Varying dosage approaches can be practical for different people when taking CBD for migraine pain. Some users find low dosages of 10-50mg effective in preventing migraines or blocking their pain. Others may find high doses of 300mg or more are needed to relieve headaches. Every individual has differing responses because of their unique physiology. Finding a dose that works for you will take some experimentation and time. Start with low doses and increase over time as you become more used to CBD.
Certain terpene compounds from hemp are helpful for headaches because of their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Some can offer relief from head pain and provide nociception-blocking abilities that make them useful for migraines. Myrcene, for instance, is highly anti-inflammatory and can help with the neuroinflammation that frequently underlies headache symptoms. Beta-caryophyllene can lower nociception and mitigate pain sensations. Taking advantage of terpenes by using a full-spectrum CBD product is a helpful way to amplify the benefits you can obtain for headache issues.
Cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, interact with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in pain modulation. Multiple clinical trials have demonstrated medications containing these compounds can help lower the frequency and impact of migraines or headaches for many individuals. Typically, for pain or migraines, cannabis medications containing a mixture of both cannabinoids are used due to their synergy in combatting pain symptoms. For example, a Canadian clinical trial from 2019 demonstrated cannabis medication could reduce migraine occurrence by around 50% amongst healthy adults who suffered from migraine conditions.
While further clinical trials are needed to reinforce the evidence of CBD’s benefits for migraines and headaches, it’s clear it works well for many individuals. Through the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids like CBD help in mitigating pain and inflammation from migraines. They offer a natural alternative to medications like NSAIDs for headaches while having fewer side effects. In blocking nociception (pain perception) and helping to protect neurons from inflammation and excitatory activity, CBD helps to lower both the frequency and severity of headaches. It can be taken in many ways, like CBD oil or gummies, but most will look to use it when they feel the onset of symptoms to maximise its efficacy in preventing headaches as they occur. Trying it out may be worthwhile for you if migraines have become a frustrating occurrence. Check-in with your doctor as a first step to clear any potential safety risks and ensure you stay safe.