According to government health studies, the burden of self-reported migraines and severe headaches in the U.S. adult population is high, affecting about one out of every six Americans and one in five women over three months.
You can always use an over-the-counter pain reliever, but if you have frequent headaches you may worry about the cumulative side effects. For those with severe migraines and painful headaches, standard pain relievers don’t help much. There are prescription options, but they have their own side effects.
Fortunately, headache sufferers have a new potential treatment option: CBD oil.
Migraines are Unusually Difficult to Treat
A migraine headache is a difficult type of headache to treat. Whereas a tension headache is caused by stress and a sinus headache caused by swelling in the nasal passages, a migraine headache is considered a neurological disease involving nerve pathways and chemicals. Changes in brain activity affect blood in the brain and the surrounding tissues, causing pain, nausea, dizziness, and increased sensitivity to light, sound, and smells.
Over-the-counter pain medicines may help ease mild migraines, but they often do nothing for moderate-to-severe ones. Prescription medications can help cut down on the number of migraines a person suffers per month but may cause other troublesome side effects.
Lifestyle changes—such as improving sleep habits and avoiding trigger foods—can help a little, but in the end, many people just end up suffering the pain over and over again.
CBD for Migraines
Fortunately, CBD oil has been found to hold promise as a potential treatment for migraines.
In a 2017 study presented at the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), researchers found that doses of CBD over 200 mg helped reduce acute migraine pain by 55 percent when compared to a placebo. A combination of THC and CBD reduced migraine attacks by 40.4 percent, while also reducing pain intensity by 43.5 percent.
“We were able to demonstrate that cannabinoids are an alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention,” said Dr. Maria Nicolodi from the Interuniversity Center, Neurochemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of Idiopathic Headache.
In an earlier 2016 study on medical cannabis, researchers surveyed 121 adults with migraine headaches between January 2010 and September 2014. Those using cannabis experienced a reduction in headaches from 10.4 to 4.6 per month.
In another survey of patients using medical cannabis for headaches, the majority of them reported positive results on their migraines. Most preferred a combination of THC and CBD.
CBD on its own has been shown in other studies to help regulate pain. It interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, manipulating receptors in the brain associated with pain and inflammation.
In a 2017 review examining the role of CBD in treating headaches, researchers noted that we don’t have enough evidence yet from well-designed clinical trials to recommend it, but “there are sufficient anecdotal and preliminary results” to warrant further studies.
Can CBD Cause Headaches?
While some people may find relief from their headaches using CBD, others say that it can actually cause headaches.
Why would this happen?
CBD can indeed trigger unwanted side effects in some people, depending on how it’s used. But the safety profile on CBD has been very good so far.
In a 2017 review on its safety and side effects, researchers noted that in general, CBD has a “favorable safety profile.” Side effects have been reported in some people—including fatigue, diarrhea, and changes in appetite—but nowhere in the report was “headache” listed as a potential side effect.
Taking the wrong dose of CBD, however—especially if you use too much—may result in side effects like headache. This is why dosing is so important. Always be sure you’re using only as much as you need to.
Taking poor-quality CBD oil, as well, may lead to unwanted side effects. Some opportunists seeking to capitalize on the growing CBD market may take shortcuts in producing their CBD products, creating something that is contaminated with other ingredients that may cause headaches.
Finally, the CBD may be interacting with some medications you’re already taking. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying it.
To help make sure you don’t experience unwanted headaches when using CBD—and that you experience headache relief instead—take these precautions:
- Always buy from reputable companies that offer third-party testing results on their products.
- Look into how the company processes its CBD—whether or not it uses chemicals—and choose products that are as close to natural as possible.
- Check with your doctor about any potential medication interactions.
- Start with the lowest effective dose.