Can CBD oil help migraines and headaches?
Extracted from cannabis varieties called hemp, CBD is one of an array of cannabis compounds known as cannabinoids. Unlike the most common cannabinoid, THC, CBD won’t get you high – in fact, it's thought to temper THC’s psychoactive effects.
Research into CBD’s potential for alleviating migraines and headaches in isolation is limited, and further study is required. However, evidence from clinical trials that have combined it with THC suggest CBD may play an integral part in helping with pain and nausea as well as reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
Can CBD treat migraines and headaches?
One of the ways in which CBD may be able to help people suffering from migraines and headaches is by treating the symptoms, such as pain and nausea.
There has been little research into the effect of CBD by itself on pain in human subjects, but some studies involving a combination of THC and CBD – in the form of the medication Sativex – have shown that it significantly improves pain relief and that the inclusion of CBD is crucial to this.
Meanwhile, the scientific journal Headache has noted the increasing amount of evidence that CBD and THC may be effective in the treatment of pain, including migraine and headache pain.
Another study looked at the effect of Sativex on nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. It concluded that the combination of CBD and THC was able to boost the effect of existing anti-nausea medication.
Migraine and headache studies
Specific research into the effects of cannabinoids on migraines and headaches is limited and, again, is restricted to a combination of THC and CBD. However, studies do show some promising results regarding CBD.
An Italian study involving 79 migraine patients conducted over a three-month period gave one group a daily 200mg dose of THC and CBD and another 25mg of amitriptyline, an anti-depressant commonly used to treat migraines.
The THC-CBD combination decreased the number of migraine attacks by 40.4%, making it slightly more effective than the conventional medicine, and reduced pain intensity by 43.5%. It had a similar degree of effectiveness on pain in patients suffering from cluster headaches but only if they had also experienced migraines in childhood.
The study concluded that cannabinoids are a valid alternative to existing migraine treatments.
How CBD works to help pain
The regulation of pain and inflammation is one of the jobs carried out by the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS produces chemicals called endocannabinoids which bind to receptors, signalling cells to produce analgesic and anti-inflammatory responses.
However, plant cannabinoids including THC and CBD can also interact with the ECS. Although further research is required to determine the precise mechanisms by which they do this, it is possible that CBD may inhibit the breakdown of endocannabinoids, thereby increasing their effects.
CBD is also known to interact with other receptor systems responsible for pain-related responses. They include 5-HT receptors for serotonin, which influences mood, opioid receptors involved in pain relief and TRVP1 receptors which produce the sensation of scalding heat.
How to take CBD for migraines and headaches
CBD comes in a range of products, from bottled oils to vaping liquids, edible gummies and capsules to topical creams and cosmetics.
Inhaling a CBD vaping liquid directly into your lungs is the fastest way to get it into your system, so it may be a tempting method if you’re suffering from a migraine and want to relieve the symptoms quickly. However, there remain serious safety concerns about vaping, so it is best avoided.
CBD oil taken sublingually – under the tongue – is the next most efficient way to consume CBD. Use the bottle’s dropper to place the required number of drops beneath the tongue and hold there for a minute or two before swallowing. The CBD will be absorbed through the capillary-rich mucous membrane directly into the bloodstream, acting faster and retaining more of the active ingredient than simply swallowing the oil or adding it to food or drink.
Using CBD oil in a dropper also allows you to take an accurately measured dose so you can start small and work your way up over a period of several days until you find the right dose for you.
CBD oils come in a variety of different concentrations so read the information on the packaging to ensure you know the strength of the oil you’re taking and how much is in each droplet (find out a quick and easy way to calculate this here). Good CBD brands will provide independent lab results showing the levels of CBD and other trace elements in their products.
If you’re taking medication or supplements, you should talk to your doctor before using CBD (see CBD drug interactions, below, for more details).
Safety and side-effects of CBD oil
CBD is considered safe by international bodies such as the World Health Organization and the European Union, which says CBD “does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health”.
Research has generally shown CBD to be ‘well tolerated’ by subjects, with few choosing to discontinue treatment due to adverse effects. However, a minority of CBD users do experience side-effects including dry mouth, tiredness/fatigue, diarrhoea, appetite changes, irritability and nausea.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency recommends as a precaution that pregnant or breastfeeding women do not use CBD and that daily doses for others are limited to 70mg per day.
CBD is known to inhibit some enzymes responsible for metabolising certain medicines. This can lead to unsafe levels of the drug in the body as well as accentuating any side-effects.
One of the enzymes that CBD interacts with is also inhibited by the consumption of grapefruit and other related citrus fruits. That means you should avoid taking CBD with any medication that carries a grapefruit warning.
However, CBD also interacts with drugs that don’t come with grapefruit warnings, so if you are on any medication you should consult your doctor before taking CBD.
The author of this article is not a medical expert and nothing in this article constitutes medical advice or gives rise to a medical practitioner/patient relationship. You should seek specialist medical advice where required. Never disregard professional medical advice or refrain from seeking it because of something you have read here.