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CBD for Migraines: What Does the Research Say?

Posted on April 11, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Brooke Dulka, Ph.D.

Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause episodes of intense, disabling head pain and other symptoms such as nausea. To find relief, some people turn to natural or complementary therapies, including cannabidiol (CBD), as part of their treatment.

While research is still growing, it’s likely that CBD may have fewer side effects than other migraine treatments such as antidepressants and opioids. Understanding what is known about CBD and its potential effects on migraine pain can help you make an informed decision as to whether it’s a treatment option worth exploring.

What Is CBD?

CBD is a byproduct of the Cannabis sativa (hemp) plant. Unlike the primary psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — CBD does not produce a “high” feeling. Instead, CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation and ease chronic pain in animal studies. Because of these potentially therapeutic properties, CBD is used for medicinal purposes by many people. In fact, CBD has been used successfully with approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain epilepsy syndromes.

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill made the production and distribution of industrial hemp legal across the United States, and CBD can now be found at many stores in several forms. These CBD products include:

  • Oils
  • Sublinguals (forms that dissolve under the tongue)
  • Edibles (gummies, cookies, and other treats)
  • Drinks
  • Smokable hemp
  • Skin patches
  • Lotions and salves

How Does CBD Work?

CBD is what’s called a cannabinoid. There are many types of cannabinoids, including synthetic cannabinoids (cannabinoids made in a lab, such as nabilone), endocannabinoids (cannabinoids your body makes naturally, such as anandamide), and phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids found in plants, such as CBD and THC).

Because your body has an endocannabinoid system to help regulate the nervous system, your brain also has receptors that respond to CBD.

Research on CBD is still limited, but researchers are beginning to understand how it works through studies of animal models. For instance, CBD has been shown to reduce intestinal inflammation in mice. Further research with mice has revealed that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties are likely due to its regulation of cell death, prevention of new cell growth, and suppression of cytokines (inflammatory substances) and immune cells.

CBD treatment may also reduce the pain and nerve damage associated with some forms of arthritis in rat models. The pain-reducing actions in these models of inflammation may be associated with how CBD acts on certain pain receptors.

How Can CBD Affect Migraine Symptoms?

If CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory that may reduce pain, can it help with the pain and other symptoms associated with migraines?

Currently, there is little research on the effects of CBD alone on chronic migraine pain. That said, the use of inhaled medical cannabis (medical marijuana) containing both CBD and THC has been shown to reduce self-reported headache and migraine severity by approximately 50 percent. More research is needed to draw firmer conclusions about the use of CBD by itself.

While clinical research is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD seems to help ease the symptoms of migraine in some people. Overall, MyMigraineTeam members have had mixed experiences.

One MyMigraineTeam member said, “I put some topical CBD on the back of my neck, and it does relieve tension there.” They added, “I have tried the oral CBD oil. That has not helped me. But everyone is different.”

Another member shared, “I used to get about one migraine a week. I started taking CBD oil in February, and I have only had one migraine since then. CBD has been a life-saver for me.”

“Migraine from the rain that came through earlier this morning,” another member wrote. “A CBD patch and Excedrin Migraine are helping a bit.”

Know the Limitations of CBD

CBD can be helpful for some people, but that doesn’t mean it can help everyone. Although CBD is generally well tolerated, it can have some side effects. These side effects can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue

CBD can also sometimes interact with other medications, such as blood thinners and anti-seizure medications. It’s important to consult with your doctor before using CBD.

CBD is not currently regulated by the FDA. Therefore, stores that sell CBD are under no real guidelines, and the purity of the CBD they sell may not be what they claim it is. If you choose to use CBD products for migraine attacks, be sure you buy them from a reputable seller.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMigraineTeam is the social network for people with migraines and their loved ones. Over 72,000 members come together to share stories, give advice, and discuss their experiences living with migraines.

Have you or a loved one used CBD for migraines? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation at MyMigraineTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Brooke Dulka, Ph.D. is a freelance science writer and editor. She received her doctoral training in biological psychology at the University of Tennessee. Learn more about her here.

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