Anyone who has suffered even one migraine can tell you it’s much more than “just a headache.” A migraine headache is an often-debilitating neurological disorder that can be marked with a constellation of symptoms and be spurred by a number of triggers, each of which largely varies from person to person.
Scientists aren’t even sure what is happening physiologically during a migraine, so finding a cure or effective treatments has been hit-or-miss, with some sufferers finding relief in pharmaceutical treatments, while others seek non-medicinal routes for relief. With so many unknowns about the disease and such variable success with known treatments, could CBD provide relief for migraineurs?
What is migraine and what causes it?
The Migraine Research Foundation defines a migraine as “an extremely incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that usually includes a severe throbbing recurring pain on one side of the head.” In about one-third of cases, attacks can affect both sides of the head, last between 4 and 72 hours, and are often accompanied by visual disturbances; nausea; vomiting; sensitivity to sound, light, smell, or touch; and/or numbness or tingling in the limbs or face.
Physiologically, scientists aren’t sure what is happening to cause the symptoms associated with migraine, but they do know there’s a strong genetic component to the disease. It was once believed that it involved the dilation and contraction of blood vessels in the head, so medications targeted those blood vessels. Now, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers theorize that “migraine pain happens due to waves of activity by groups of excitable brain cells. These trigger chemicals, such as serotonin, to narrow blood vessels.”
Just as varied as the symptoms of the disease are the factors that trigger an incident. Hormonal changes, certain foods and drinks, exposure to certain smells, bright lights, stress, lack of sleep, and any number of other factors can cause an individual to suffer an attack.
Who is affected? Migraines by the numbers
- Globally, 1 in 10 people suffers from migraine
- Nationally, 39 million Americans are afflicted, with women (18%) three times as likely as men (6%) to be affected
- About 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine
- About 85% of chronic migraine sufferers are women
- 3rd most prevalent illness in the world
- 6th most disabling disease in the world
Current migraine treatments
The evolved theories on the physiology of migraine have led to newer classes of drug therapy, and off-label use of others, to help sufferers. But contraindications, side effects, and hit-or-miss levels of effectiveness means that many migraineurs still continually search for relief. Sufferers try over-the-counter medications, devices, surgical treatments, trigger elimination, and homeopathic treatments for relief (either by treating attacks or trying to prevent them), but because of variations in the disease, trial-and-error continues to be necessary for most sufferers to identify what works best for them.
In the absence of a broadly effective approach to treating and preventing migraine, can cannabinoids help?
Cannabinoids and Migraine
While no double-blind studies of CBD for the treatment of migraine have yet been conducted, anecdotal evidence of individuals finding migraine relief from CBD abound.
Some of the most commonly reported uses of CBD for migraine include:
- Relief from migraine headache pain
- Relief from nausea and neck pain associated with migraine events
- Decrease in anxiety
- Help with sleeping
- As with anyone turning to CBD to treat a condition, migraineurs should speak with their primary care physicians prior to using any supplement, including CBD.
The Bottom Line
Migraine is an often-chronic condition disproportionately affecting women and frustrating its sufferers with its lack of a clear treatment to provide relief. For those unable to find success with pharmaceutical products or who choose to not treat their migraines with traditional medication, CBD shows promise as an area for future study as a potential treatment for migraine. CBD’s studied effectiveness in treating various types of pain, reducing inflammation, decreasing anxiety, and improving sleep scores could be promising enough to lead migraine sufferers to try CBD to see if it provides them relief from this often-debilitating disease.
Whether it’s in the form of topicals applied to the areas of pain, oils and tinctures to address anxiety and insomnia, or other applications of the cannabinoid, CBD sees anecdotal support for its effectiveness with migraine, and, as with much of migraine treatment to this day, trial-and-error could lead sufferers to find relief with CBD.
The quality of CBD products is not regulated, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any over-the-counter CBD products. Be sure to check the label to confirm the product has received third-party testing for quality. CBD supplements can interact with other medications, so it is important to talk with your doctor before beginning the regular use of any CBD products.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/headache/how-a-migraine-happens
- Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/cbd-oil-for-migraines
- Pharmacotherapy. May 2016. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289970526_Effects_of_Medical_Marijuana_on_Migraine_Headache_Frequency_in_an_Adult_Population
- University of Michigan. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/should-you-take-cbd-for-pain
- The Permanente Journal. Jan 2019.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/