One of the most common reasons people take CBD is for its ability to relieve pain. Because of the analgesic properties CBD contains, many people are curious if CBD can help mitigate pain associated with headaches and migraines.
Cannabis: An Ancient Remedy for Headache Pain
People have been experiencing headaches since time began.
And until cannabis was criminalized almost a century ago, it was commonly used as an aid for headaches and migraines.
There are several reports throughout the ages of cannabis being used to treat pain associated with the head.
Assyrian manuscripts from 2000 BC, for example, recommend cannabis to “bind the temples.” Ayurvedic formulations were prepared for “diseases of the head” in ancient India, and cannabis was recommended in ancient Greece as a treatment for “pain of the ears.” There are references of cannabis used for headaches in early Arabic pharmacology, as well as in medical texts from well-known physicians of the Middle Ages, including John Parkinson.
Bottom line — cannabis has been helping people get rid of their headaches for centuries. So, can CBD help headaches and migraines? There’s a pretty big possibility that it can. Before we go there, let’s take a deeper look at headaches and migraines themselves.
What Are Headaches and Migraines?
Headaches are one of the most common “ailments” that exists. Almost everyone, at one point in their life or another, will experience a headache.
Tension headaches and migraines are the most common types of headaches that exist.
The dull, throbbing pain associated with tension headaches is common and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours or more. Aside from dull, throbbing pain felt on both sides of the head, other symptoms of tension headaches can include: sensitivity to light and sound, experiencing pressure behind the eyes and tenderness in the face, neck and shoulders.
Tension headaches are typically caused by stress and tension; however, there are other factors that can cause this common type of headache. Poor sleep, improper nutrition, dehydration, lack of exercise, poor posture and loud noise can also contribute to tension headaches.
Migraines are more common than you might think. In the U.S. alone, almost 40 million people suffer from migraines, with 2–3 million of these being chronic. If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you know just how agonizing the symptoms associated with this headache type can be. Symptoms of migraines include severe, pulsing pain typically on one side of the head and extreme sensitivity to light and sound that is often accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting. As if the pain wasn’t bad enough, migraines can last for days on end.
What causes migraines? While it’s not fully understood, migraines are believed to be caused by various environmental and genetic factors. It’s also speculated they could be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s been discovered that when someone experiences a migraine there’s a drop in serotonin levels.
Other possible causes of migraines can include hormonal changes in women, environmental factors (change of weather or barometric pressure), some medications, bright lights, stress, alcohol, family history of migraines, age, sex (women are 3x more likely to experience migraines than men) and menstruation.
Can CBD Oil Help Headaches and Migraines?
Can CBD actually help the pain associated with headaches and migraines? It could, and it all comes down to the endocannabinoid system. While research on CBD’s efficacy is limited, there are several studies that highlight the ability of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid to mitigate both chronic and acute pain.
Anyone who suffers from headaches and migraines can attest that finding ways to manage the pain associated with them is of paramount importance. Go-to treatments typically include over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen, as well as prescriptions like triptans, ergots, anti-nausea medications, opioids and glucocorticoids.
While these medications might work for headaches and migraines, they can also contain some pretty serious side effects, especially when taken regularly. For those seeking to naturally manage the pain associated with headaches and migraines, CBD could offer the alternative they’re looking for.
What does the little research that’s been conducted on CBD’s ability to help with headaches and migraines have to say? Let’s take a look.
Research on CBD for Headaches and Migraines
In a 2017 study, it was suggested that one reported theory underlying the cause of migraines is an alteration in endocannabinoid function. Studies have shown, for example, that migraines are associated with a decrease in the expression of a particular gene that encodes the CB1 receptor. Women who experience migraines also show increased activity of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that is used to degrade the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA), as well at the endocannabinoid membrane transporter (EMT), which can lead to an overall decrease of endocannabinoids altogether.
It’s suggested that endocannabinoid deficiency could be an underlying cause of migraines, although it’s a theory for which further research is warranted.
Because endocannabinoids play a role in the modulation of trigeminovascular system function (believed to be involved in some types of headaches), a group of researchers set out to test their hypotheses that the endocannabinoid system may be dysfunctional in individuals who experience chronic migraines in a 2007 study.
Endocannabinoid levels were measured in the cerebrospinal fluid of individuals who suffered from chronic migraines. It was discovered that migraine sufferers had significantly lower levels of anandamide which could “reflect an impairment of the endocannabinoid system…which may contribute to chronic head pain.” Researchers concluded their study by saying that their “findings support the potential role of the CB1 receptor as a possible therapeutic target in chronic migraines.”
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Personal Reports of Headaches and Migraines Being Helped by CBD
What’s lacking in clinical evidence as far as CBD helping with headaches and migraines is concerned, could just be made up for by personal reports of the benefits the cannabinoid contains.
There are several reports of CBD helping tremendously with headaches and migraines.
One user (who takes CBD when migraines first appear) had the following to say:
My brother and I both get complicated migraines and CBD has helped us both tremendously. 200-300 mg taken as soon as aura appears cuts down the migraine from 8+ hours to about 2, brings back most vision, diminishes pain, and minimizes post-migraine hangover and recovery time. We are so grateful for this relief after years of trying everything under the sun without any improvement.
If headaches and migraines are indeed caused by an endocannabinoid deficiency, it would make sense that CBD would help to bring balance back to the body. By introducing cannabinoids to the body, homeostasis can be accomplished.
In an interview with Project CBD, Dr. Ethan Russo, neurologist and cannabinoid researcher, explains it like this: “Cannabidiol is an endocannabinoid modulator, in other words, when given chronically it actually increases the gain of the system…. So, if there’s too much activity in a system, homeostasis requires that it be brought back down. If there’s too little, it’s got to come up. And that’s what cannabidiol can do as a promoter of endocannabinoid tone.”
CBD, however, doesn’t bind directly to endocannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. What it does instead is activate other non-endocannabinoid receptors, specifically the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors and TRPV-1 receptors, both of which are involved with the development and treatment of headaches and migraines.
We mentioned earlier that CBD also inhibits FAAH, which breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide in the body. By hindering its production, it’s postulated that higher levels of anandamide could be attained, which could help relieve the pain associated with headaches and migraines.
Clinical evidence, however, is still lacking.
But based on personal reports of the effectiveness of CBD for migraines and headaches, it couldn’t hurt to try. Whether used in large serving sizes like one user who takes 200-300mg of CBD at the onset of a migraine or used preventatively each day, CBD could help with headaches and migraines.
Can CBD Help Headaches and Migraines?
Further research on the effectiveness of CBD for headaches and migraines is certainly necessary. Because there isn’t much research, we’d love to hear about your own personal experience. Have you used CBD to help with headaches or migraines? If so, please share your personal experience in the comments below, or reach out to us using our online form. We’d love to hear from you!