05 Jul CBD and migraines: A research review
Written by Alex Coughlan and reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU
- There’s currently no cure for migraines.
- Various treatments are available to help ease the symptoms.
- Researchers are exploring if CBD has the potential to be a valuable treatment.
- The results of early studies on CBD and headaches, as well as CBD and chronic pain, are promising.
Migraines are a painful health condition. In the US, migraines affect around 35 Million Americans, over 43% of women and 18% of men will suffer from migraines at some point in their lives.
During a migraine attack, one might experience severe headache, fatigue, nausea, problems with sight, as well as sensitivity to light, sounds and smell.
With disabling migraine attacks lasting between 4 and 72 hours, and no cure available, treatment is focused on prevention and management of symptoms.
Could CBD and migraines be the right thing to look into next? It might very well be!
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is one of many chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.
CBD does not cause any intoxicating effects. It will not cause a high or change your perception of reality.
Instead, CBD is often used as a supplement by people looking for natural ways to support their body and help it perform at its best.
How does CBD work, and what does the research say?
We still have much to learn about cannabinoids, with new research being published every day.
We do know that cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors and, through that interaction, influence various processes in our bodies.
Cannabinoid receptors are just one of three building blocks of the endocannabinoid system; endocannabinoids and enzymes being the other two.
Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by the human body that act as messengers carrying messages received by cannabinoid receptors present throughout the body.
There are over 20 different cannabinoid receptors; CB1 and CB2 being the most prominent ones.
The receptors’ primary role is to adjust and optimise various processes in the human body, helping the body and its organs function well.
Different receptors have different responsibilities. For example, CB1 receptors, present in abundance in the nervous system, play a role in how your brain processes information, how your body moves, and how it experiences pain.
CB2 receptors are more focused on keeping your immune system strong, and many can be found in bones and the liver.
Studies on pain, nausea, stress and insomnia have shown a relationship between the endocannabinoid system and how our bodies deal with those processes. The relationship between the endocannabinoid system, CBD and headache, including migraine, is the subject of current research. Although the results are not conclusive, they are promising, and further research is very much encouraged.
CBD and migraines: Can it help?
The association of CBD with illegal cannabis has limited research progression until recently.
This stagnation is one of the reasons why we do not have enough human studies on CBD and headaches, or CBD and migraines. Yet, what we do have shows potential.
Researchers are currently working on understanding the impact of cannabis on how humans experience pain.
For example, a scientific review of numerous randomised clinical trials on the use of cannabinoids in pain management concluded that adding cannabinoids to the traditional treatment of difficult pain holds great promise.
Another more recent study looked into how cannabis impacts headaches and migraines.
The researchers were inspired by discovering that using cannabis to cope with headaches is common, even though it has not been researched thoroughly. This does not surprise us, as 55% of all Naturecan customers use CBD products to help them manage their pain.
As research is still lacking, the scientists tried to help fill this gap by looking into the 12,293 cases of people using cannabis to treat headaches and 7,441 cases of using it to treat migraines.
Interestingly, the users reported a nearly 50% reduction in headaches and migraines after using cannabis that contained various levels of CBD and THC.
However, more controlled studies are needed to fully understand the role of a single cannabinoid in supporting people with migraines, and this includes the link between CBD and migraines.
Chronic migraine and CBD
Some people experience migraine attacks occasionally whilst others may experience regular attacks.
If you experience migraine headaches for a minimum of 8 days a month, for 3 months, and you also experience a common headache on other days, then you might be suffering from chronic migraine.
A fascinating study from 2020 looked at how CBD-rich hemp extract can help people who suffer from chronic pain and are currently using opioids to deal with it – a medication that has been scientifically proven to cause adverse effects and create dependency.
The study showed that over half of chronic pain patients who started regular use of CBD reduced or eliminated their opioids after 8 weeks of supplementation. In addition, almost all of them (94%) reported that their quality of life improved.
While this study was not explicitly focused on CBD and migraines, it is hard not to be optimistic about the potential benefits of CBD and what we will learn in the future.
Non-headache symptoms of migraines, and can CBD help?
Very often, a conversation about CBD and migraines focuses entirely on the topic of CBD and headaches. It makes sense, as an excruciating headache is the most debilitating symptom for migraine sufferers. There are other symptoms of migraines that are relatively common, yet not often discussed.
Neck pain and muscle stiffness are some of the symptoms of migraines that can appear before, during, or after an attack. The pain is usually not nearly as severe as a migraine headache, but it can be unpleasant and tiresome.
Headaches vs migraines
How can you know if you suffer from a regular headache and not a migraine attack?
When experiencing a headache, you will most likely feel pressure. The pain can be minor or significant, possibly extending from the head to the neck or face.
A common headache will be felt mainly in the forehead and scalp, potentially radiating towards your spine.
On the other hand, migraine headaches will only be felt on one side of your head, or one side of your head will feel significantly more painful than the other.
Migraine headaches will most likely be accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, light sensitivity, or neck stiffness.
If you are suffering from severe headaches, it’s best to talk to your doctor. Only a medical professional can provide you with a correct diagnosis.
Other ways to manage migraines
It is not possible to stop a migraine attack when it starts. All you can do is manage the symptoms, wait it out, and try some lifestyle changes that might help you prevent or reduce the frequency and severity of future attacks.
First and foremost, it is crucial to identify any potential triggers for the migraine. People experience migraine attacks in different ways, and what might be highly triggering for some, may have no impact on others.
Medical specialists agree that putting extra effort into learning how to manage stress effectively and finding healthy ways to release tension can help prevent migraine attacks. This is also important if you feel that the stress of everyday life is interfering with your sleep. Sleep, in healthy amounts and on a regular schedule, has been shown to help migraine sufferers feel better.
Over-the-counter pain relief medications are a common way to cope with headaches. Some people with migraine also try anti-inflammatory drugs or prescription medication (including antidepressants and anti-seizure medication). Botox treatment is also an option.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell which medical treatment will work best for you. Many people try various available treatments and only find the solution that suits them best after some trial and error.
This approach is no different from using CBD. The dose and form of consumption that works best for you might be different from one that works best for a friend.
Be sure to keep track of whatever treatments you are trying out, together with the frequency and intensity of your migraine attacks. Only then will you be able to tell what worked for you.
Other potential benefits of CBD
Experiencing regular migraine attacks might lead to depression or anxiety. However, some early studies point out that CBD, especially when combined with other terpenes and cannabinoids, may help reduce high anxiety levels.
The potential relaxing properties of CBD might also help migraine sufferers in their fight against sleepless nights. Improving sleep hygiene is something doctors recommend that migraine sufferers do, but the discomfort experienced during an attack can make it hard to fall asleep.
If you have trouble relaxing and switching off, you might want to explore CBD further. Early research suggests CBD contributes to better stress and anxiety management. So, whether you are currently working on improving your sleep or simply looking for a way to help turn some anxious thoughts around, you may benefit from CBD.
How to take CBD
There are different ways to implement CBD into your daily routine.
If you enjoy earthy flavours, you should consider CBD oil. It has high bioavailability and allows for precise dosing.
CBD products have the best chance of impacting how you feel when taken regularly, but it is not recommended to take more than 70mg per day.
If a stiff neck or muscle pain caused by migraines is what you are bothered with, you might want to see if CBD topical balms can help you manage these symptoms.
Potential side effects of CBD
CBD can be used safely and effectively. It tends to be well-tolerated by most and appears to cause less severe side effects than traditional drugs. Yet, if you are undergoing any medical treatment for migraines, and CBD is something you’re considering trying, keep in mind that CBD may interfere with certain medications, such as antidepressants.
Other CBD side effects include drowsiness, nausea or dry mouth. When using higher doses, it is possible to experience diarrhoea, weakness or rashes, but these are uncommon at recommended doses.
We recommend you consult with your doctor before taking CBD if you are taking any prescribed medicine. Do not exceed the recommended maximum CBD dose of 70 mg per day. CBD should not be taken by anyone under 18 or when pregnant or whilst breast-feeding.
Does CBD cause headaches?
Headache is not a side effect associated with CBD. A previously discussed study from 2020 looked into a headache as a side effect of using cannabis by migraine sufferers and found no correlation between the two.
CBD from trusted suppliers complies with all growing, manufacturing and safety testing regulations. This includes ensuring contaminants are not present, so avoiding the unwanted effects of consuming them.
Will CBD make you high?
No, CBD will not make you high.
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid and will not impair your judgement or cause short-term memory loss. THC is the controlled cannabinoid that is associated with intoxication, but you have nothing to worry about when using our products as they are compliant with the regulations, having non-detectable levels of THC.
Is CBD legal?
What to look for in CBD products
The CBD industry is still vastly underregulated, so you must do your research before purchasing any CBD products.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you buy CBD products:
- Buy products made from organically grown hemp
- Look for brands that test their products in independent labs
- Stay away from brands making false medical claims
- Avoid products with illegal amounts of THC
- Early studies suggest CBD may be helpful in the management of symptoms associated with migraine attacks.
- CBD may contribute to better sleep and lower anxiety – common migraine triggers.
- People undergoing treatments for migraines should consult their doctors before using CBD supplements.
- Current studies show enough promise to encourage further research on CBD as a potential treatment for migraine symptoms.
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