CBD is one of the most well-known compounds in hemp and cannabis sativa plants. While delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes an intoxicatingly psychoactive high, CBD alone does not.
Research links cannabis to headache and migraine relief; one 2021 literature review reports that a combination of CBD and THC had encouraging short- and long-term outcomes for people suffering from migraines.
When examining CBD alone, studies show the cannabinoid can be an effective treatment option for chronic pain. One survey conducted by Axon Relief—a company developing products for migraine relief—found CBD may lead to a reduction in migraine days and help decrease the impact of migraines. While further research is needed, the American Migraine Foundation reports that CBD oil may be a viable topical solution for neck and joint pain often associated with migraines.
Beyond pain relief, CBD may help reduce nausea and inflammation often associated with migraines, says Chantel Strachan, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician and headache specialist at ColumbiaDoctors and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York.
How CBD Works
When it comes to CBD and migraines, the benefits look increasingly optimistic. “There is promising scientific research that CBD may be effective in easing migraine symptoms through CBD’s interaction with the body’s endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS)” says Michael Lewis, M.D., president and founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute and medical advisor at CV Sciences, Inc., a company researching and developing CBD products.
Cannabinoids, including CBD, interact with the ECS—a neuromodulatory system that plays a role in central nervous system development and the body’s response to both endogenous and environmental threats—through receptors found throughout the body. “Cannabinoid interaction with these receptors causes cells to reduce inflammation, relieve pain or just make us feel good,” says Dr. Lewis. What’s more, clinical evidence shows people with chronic migraines (at least 15 headache days per month) have lower levels of endocannabinoids—neurotransmitters that naturally exist within the body and bind to cannabinoid receptors—which may help explain how CBD may benefit people with migraines.
Potential Risks of Using CBD for Migraine Relief
While CBD tends to be well-tolerated by most people, it can cause the following side effects:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
For people who turn to CBD for migraine relief, Dr. Cho cautions that it may not be a long-term solution—at least not at the same dose. “Some studies show a tolerance issue with decreased efficacy at the same dose over time,” she says. Dr. Strachan adds that taking CBD over the long term may lead to other symptoms, such as mood fluctuations and memory loss.
With those side effects in mind, it’s important to note that while long-term use of conventional migraine treatments is linked to medication overuse headaches in approximately 15% of people with migraines, research has yet to suggest CBD does the same.
The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp-derived CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight legal. Currently, access to CBD varies depending on the state and their adoption of the Farm Bill. In some states, CBD is easily available to purchase and possess, while others make it less accessible or largely available online.
The World Anti-Doping Agency advises against the use of over-the-counter CBD products for athletes due to manufacturing and regulation risks that could lead to THC contamination.
Over-the-counter CBD products are neither FDA-approved nor under any medical regulatory compliance, meaning there’s no way to 100% guarantee their safety and legality, says Dr. Cho. There’s also concern when it comes to the reliability and accuracy of a product’s dosage and purity listed on its label, she says.