Can CBD Provide Migraine Relief?
When a migraine sets in, there is nothing stopping it. It’s like being tied to the tracks with an oncoming freight train; you can hear it coming from miles away, but there is nothing you can do to avoid it. Migraines, when they hit, hit hard. They are debilitating, typically forcing those experiencing them to hide out in their bedrooms, lights off, blinds drawn. Daily activities grind to a halt until they've managed to come out the other side, sometimes days later.
In the struggle to get migraines under control, people are exploring the benefits of cannabinoids. Medical marijuana has a long history as a natural medicine for migraines, prescribed by physicians around the world until roughly the 1940s, when it was prohibited. But even the prohibition didn’t stop people from using it for pain relief; they just went underground.
Now, with the expansion of medical marijuana, there is research backing up the long-time use of marijuana for migraines. Cannabis is now understood to reduce significantly the severity and frequency of severe headaches. A Colorado study recently discovered that when patients used medical marijuana to treat migraines, their frequency dropped from an average of 10.4 headaches a month to 4.6, a greater than 50 percent reduction.
The research supporting medical marijuana use as a preventative for migraines has opened the doors to exploring of other cannabinoids. Considering that many people can’t cope with the associated high of THC, they are asking about other, gentler cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) for migraines. Does it have a similar effect?
Exploring CBD Migraine Relief
If medical marijuana (which contains high levels of THC) can reduce the effects of migraines, what can CBD do? Considering that THC comes with a host of prohibitive side effects, people are naturally curious about the potential of cannabinoids without side effects.
Cannabidiol by itself has seen little scientific study about its effectiveness for headache relief. All available studies from reliable sources such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information have only examined CBD in combination with other cannabinoids, such as THC. While we’ll explore those, it's important to note that there has yet to be one using CBD alone for treating migraines.
Understanding Migraines as Endocannabinoid Deficiency
Endocannabinoid deficiency is a relatively new discovery, one that might just be a contributing factor to many painful physiological disorders such as migraines, fibromyalgia and other treatment-resistant conditions.
Exploratory studies have discovered that many people who suffer from migraines also have lower levels of an endocannabinoid, “anandamide.” Women, who suffer more migraines than men, also tend to have higher levels of a naturally produced enzyme that targets anandamide. Overall headaches may be caused by a lack of anandamide.
The theory goes that perhaps CBD could be of benefit in this circumstance because it has demonstrated the ability to prevent the reuptake of specific endocannabinoids such as anandamide. This not only extends their lifespan as a neurotransmitter, it stops their early breakdown and increases their overall levels in the body. According to Project CBD, “Enhancing endocannabinoid tone via reuptake inhibition may be a key mechanism whereby CBD confers neuroprotective effects against seizures, as well as many other health benefits.”
Cannabinoids for Pain
In a study presented to the European Academy of Neurology, a team of medical researchers discovered how cannabinoids have a potential as a potent preventative medicine for cluster migraines.
According to the study, the team provided a THC:CBD combination alongside a more conventional migraine prescription to 48 volunteers who suffered from migraines. The team determined that only high doses of a cannabinoid combination were successful in reducing pain associated with headaches. In oral doses of 200mg, volunteers reported a 55 percent reduction in acute pain.
In the final stage of the study, patients were divided into groups, one of people suffering from cluster headaches, another more-traditional migraines. The team discovered through three months of testing that the THC:CBD combination significantly reduced the frequency and pain in the migraine subgroup, but had limited potential for acute pain in the cluster-headache group. In the latter, patients did experience a reduction in frequency.
Understanding the Root Causes of Migraines
Even in conventional medicine, there are a dozen or so common treatment options for migraines. This diversity reflects the many known causes and environmental triggers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating severe headaches. What works for one person will have little to no benefit for another.
Perhaps the most important step towards managing uncontrollable headaches is to identify their environmental triggers. This initial step is vital in reducing the frequency of migraines.
Here are some common triggers, but keep in mind they are different for everyone:
- Too much or too little sleep
- Too much time watching a TV or other screen
- Hormonal changes in women
- Irregular and poor diet
Many experts suggest keeping a diary to develop a full picture of possible migraine triggers. Most people eventually pinpoint one or two primary factors that contribute to an acute attack. Once these triggers are determined, it’s usually possible to reduce the number of migraines naturally through lifestyle changes, without resorting to medication.
Using CBD for Migraines
But, what about the headaches that just don’t go away, no matter how many lifestyle changes you make? That’s when CBD and other cannabinoids may come into play. Instead of relying on pharmaceuticals that might cause long-term damage and can be too expensive, CBD provides a safe and cost-effective alternative solution.
As discussed, research into CBD for migraine relief is scarce, but there is still tons of research on its relative safety. There is also the exciting body of research about THC:CBD combinations.
Migraine medicine, and even alternative therapies, typically fall into one of two categories. Either the medication is used as a preventative measure or as acute relief during a flare-up. Perhaps you wonder where cannabinoids fall. Are they for preventative measures, or can they offer immediate relief of symptoms?
From the available information, which includes individual testimonials, CBD seems to have more of a preventative role, while THC offers more acute relief during the onset of a migraine. This is in line with much of the available research. Medical marijuana has a long history of use as a powerful painkiller, but CBD seems to offer more extended benefit by reducing inflammation and acting as an endocannabinoid reuptake inhibitor.
How to Dose Cannabinoids for Migraines
For the uninitiated, it can be a big step to start using cannabinoids such as CBD. Although hemp-derived CBD has no risk of psychoactivity, is legal across the United States and has no record of addiction, it’s still daunting to explore its use by yourself.
Taking the time to do the research and educate yourself about how to dose safely is essential. Take the first steps through our guide on What’s the Right CBD Dosage? to better understand how to use CBD as a preventative daily supplement.