Nicholas R. Metrus, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and neuro-oncologist. He currently serves at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center in Summit, New Jersey.
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.
Properties of CBD Oil That Relieve Migraine
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.
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).
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.
For patients interested in CBD oil for the acute treatment of migraine, Dr. Silberstein says it is important to ensure that you are using a pure product. You are likely to receive a pure and safe product in states where CBD oil is legal and grown. Local dispensaries will also be of use in determining origin and quality.
There is no scientific evidence or research on CBD as an effective treatment for migraine—in large part because it has not been formally studied. However, it may still be a viable topical option for some patients with joint and muscle pain associated with migraine. “If you have a lot of neck pain or soreness, it is perfectly reasonable to use CBD oil. It may even prevent nausea and vomiting,” Dr. Silberstein says.
Cannabidiol has taken the U.S. by storm recently. Commonly known as CBD, the active ingredient found in the cannabis, or marijuana, plant, is becoming increasingly available through online retailers, with claims of pain and inflammation reduction. And those living with migraine have taken notice.
The Effects of CBD
Unlike THC, another widely known derivative of the cannabis plant, CBD oil does not have psychoactive properties or effects. “It works locally, and even if taken orally, it won’t produce intoxication,” says Dr. Silberstein.
Dr. Silberstein advises against obtaining a product in states in which CBD oil is not currently legal or regulated. Illegal forms of CBD oil could be spiked with artificial THC which could be very harmful to patients. Additionally, there are legal implications if you attempt to purchase it where it is currently illegal, so it is important to speak with your healthcare provider and check your local and state laws.
Dr. Silberstein also cautions against CBD oil or marijuana in use in adolescents, as it may affect the developing brain. “In general, it should be avoided by adolescents until more research has been conducted,” he adds.
Despite the fact that CBD oil does not elicit the same response as marijuana, it is not legal in all 50 states. So one side-effect could be the legal ramifications of partaking in using CBD oil in a state where it is not permitted by law. To determine if it is legal in the state where you reside, visit Americans for Safe Access.
Schneider had traditionally relied on Tylenol to help manage her migraines. She began taking CBD oil for cholesterol but realized it was also alleviating her migraines. “When I realized it was also helping with my migraines, I was sold,” she told Weedmaps News.
There is clinical evidence that suggests this hypothesis could hold validity. A 2007 study published in the journal “Neuropsychopharmacology” showed evidence of depressed anandamide levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of migraine sufferers. Low anandamide levels are a possible indication of an impaired ECS. These findings point to cannabinoids as a potential therapy for chronic migraine sufferers.
Current research indicates that migraines occur when the threshold for pain signaling drops in response to inflammatory agents. Environmental and hormonal triggers most likely initiate the onset of a migraine. Migraine medication often provokes adverse effects, which has resulted in a reduction of research into migraine drugs.
A 2019 review published in “Current Opinion in Neurology” suggests that CBD may have a role to play in alleviating the pain associated with migraines. CBD can affect the function and activity of signaling pathways by targeting the receptors that play a role in pain control.
“When I get a migraine, it takes me out for the day. I need a heat pad and a dark, quiet room. Then I need to sleep it off. It makes me nauseated and makes my entire head throb,” she said.
“We use CBD topically in the area of the neck with good results. We’re uncertain as to the benefit of CBD taken orally for migraines, however.” This may be because CBD ingested orally has limited bioavailability.
Another 2016 review published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research proposed the idea that migraines may be caused, in part, by a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps