A growing body of research suggests that CBD may help relieve pain, particularly neurological pain, linked with various conditions.
Specifically, CBD oil has promise as a treatment for migraine, as the American Migraine Foundation report. While they acknowledge that no scientific evidence proves that CBD is an effective treatment, they point out that this may be due to a general lack of formal research into CBD.
The foundation conclude that CBD “may still be a viable topical option for some patients with joint and muscle pain associated with migraine.”
Still, due to the lack of evidence that CBD is a safe or effective migraine treatment, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved it for this use or as a way to relieve any pain.
Below, we explore how CBD might benefit people with migraine and look into its effectiveness, safety, and legality.
There is no evidence that CBD produces a high. It does have other effects in the body, which might include relieving pain and reducing inflammation.
CBD may ease pain because it affects specific receptors in the brain. These receptors are part of the wider endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in pain and inflammation throughout the body.
Research has linked medical cannabis with the following effects, which are relevant to migraine treatment:
- pain relief
- easing nausea
- reducing inflammation
- anticonvulsive effects
However, there has been very limited research into the safety and effectiveness of cannabis, or CBD specifically, for migraine — partly due to legal restrictions on research involving the cannabis plant.
In a 2017 review of studies, researchers noted that cannabis might help treat migraine.
Likewise, a 2020 review has found that CBD can help relieve chronic pain, improve sleep, and reduce inflammation in some circumstances.
A 2018 review of the relevant research also reports that cannabis seems promising as a method of relieving pain, including pain from migraine.
A 2017 review concluded that there is enough anecdotal evidence and preliminary findings to warrant further research and high-quality clinical trials.
The bottom line is that more research is necessary. If CBD proves effective, researchers will then need to find the most effective dosages and formulations.
Meanwhile, researchers have explored whether cannabis compounds may treat chronic pain in people who have been taking opioids for long periods and want to reduce their use.
Authors of a 2009 study found evidence to support this, but a 2018 study found no link between the use of cannabis and reductions in pain or opioid use. However, the results of the latter study were based on participant-reported cannabis use, and most of this was not legal use.
Over-the-counter CBD products do not have FDA approval. As a result, there is no way to ensure that they are safe or contain what the packaging advertises. If possible, speak with a doctor before using CBD.
- as an ingredient in foods and drinks
- in capsule form
- in oral drops or sprays
- by inhaling or vaping it, though either can be dangerous
Meanwhile, researchers are investigating the potential benefits and legal and ethical implications of CBD in other forms, such as those that can be administered rectally, in the eye, or via the skin.
The FDA do not regulate over-the-counter CBD products like they regulate medications. These products may be mislabeled or misrepresent their contents. For this reason, it is important to research and find a quality product.
When it comes to CBD, one of the most significant risks concerns the lack of regulation.
In the U.S. there is no regulation over the potency or marketing of over-the-counter CBD oil. As a result, some CBD products have incorrect information on their labels. They may contain more or less CBD than advertised, and some contain significant amounts of the inhibiting psychoactive substance THC.
A healthcare provider is likely to recommend proven treatments and other approaches to care for someone with migraine.
Identifying and avoiding triggers can reduce the frequency of migraine episodes. This involves different things for different people, but it may look like:
- practicing stress management techniques
- avoiding bright lights
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and other dietary migraine triggers
- finding ways to get regular high-quality sleep
Also, while no one treatment plan works for everyone, various medications can reduce the frequency of migraine episodes and the intensity once they start.
Some approved migraine treatments include:
- over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as acetaminophen
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- prescription medications for migraine pain, such as triptans, ergots, and nerve blocks at the occipital region of the brain
- drugs that help prevent migraine episodes, including beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications
- Botox treatments
Many people try a few treatments before finding one that works. A person may benefit most from a combination of approaches.
Working closely with a healthcare provider and keeping track of the frequency and intensity of episodes can help determine the best treatment.
Find tips for instant migraine relief here.
Anyone with migraine should speak with a doctor, who can make specific recommendations about the right approach to treatment.
Is CBD legal? Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally but still illegal under some state laws. Cannabis-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are illegal federally but legal under some state laws. Check local legislation, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may be inaccurately labeled.
Various websites recommend different kinds of cannabis to treat headaches. What would you recommend?
There has been some research into cannabis and migraine, but not enough to specifically recommend a potency, dosage, or frequency.
But because there have been no specific studies, these recommendations found on websites are not based on science. These statements might reflect the experience of only one person, or someone might have created them from no evidence, as a marketing ploy.
Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHTAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.