CBD for migraine headaches is receiving attention as researchers find that CBD is helpful in providing patients relief
Someone walks into an emergency room complaining of head pain every 10 seconds according to the Migraine Research Foundation (MRF). In more than 1.2 million of these cases, acute migraines are to blame.
The sixth most disabling illness globally, migraine headaches afflict roughly 39 million people in the United States alone says the MRF. This is approximately 12% of the population, making it an issue that a large portion of your patients likely deal with.
The Mayo Clinic further indicates that the number one treatment method for migraines is medication, both preventive and pain-relieving. While these may offer some level of relief, if used long-term, they can come with negative side effects, including “medication-overuse headaches, and possibly ulcers and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.”
That’s why some migraine sufferers turn to alternative remedies in an effort to ease their head pain without the ill effects. One option that is growing in popularity is CBD for migraine headaches.
CBD and the endocannabinoid system
CBD is a cannabinoid found within the hemp plant that provides benefits due to its interaction with the human body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a system which the University of California, Los Angeles explains “is involved in a wide variety of processes, including pain, memory, mood, appetite, stress, sleep, metabolism, immune function, and reproductive function.”
Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) admits the benefits CBD has to offer. Among them are its analgesic, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory properties. The NIDA also shares that this cannabinoid has been found beneficial in providing anti-seizure, anti-tumor, anti-psychotic, and anti-anxiety responses.
While studies in these areas are somewhat limited, due in part to cannabis still being categorized as a Schedule I drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, researchers have found that CBD for migraine headaches is helpful in providing patients relief.
CBD for migraine headaches
In 2017, one such two-phase study was presented at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology in Amsterdam. The first phase of this study included 48 chronic migraine sufferers; the second phase consisted of 79 patients also experiencing long-standing migraines.
After three months of taking oral CBD combined with no more than 19% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), researchers noted that 43.5% of the participants experienced lower migraine pain intensity. Additionally, while patients with cluster headaches were exposed to the same treatment intervention, only those with headaches suffered since childhood had the same type of positive results.
Of course, the one major concern with this study is that, in addition to CBD for migraine headaches, the treatments also included THC. The psychoactive property within the marijuana plant, THC is still illegal under federal law, even though some states have chosen to legalize marijuana on a medicinal and/or recreational basis.
Other studies have been conducted, but also under similar circumstances. For instance, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain involved 2,032 patients, 42.4% of whom had pain-based illnesses. Among those with headaches, 88% were using cannabis to treat the pain. Additionally, up to 59.5% of the pained patients used this drug in place of prescription medications, most notably opioids.
The CBD-THC connection
In a 2018 update published in the Journal of Head and Face Pain, Eric P. Baron, DO, from the Department of Neurology at the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute explains that all of the substances within the cannabis plant — which includes cannabinoids like CBD and THC, as well as terpenes, flavonoids, and additional compounds — “work synergistically to produce wide variations in benefits, side effects, and strain characteristics.” Therefore, while each compound on its own many produce one type of effect, when combined, additional benefits are often provided, a benefit that has become known as the “entourage effect.”
Baron adds that, while the evidence seems to support the use of CBD and other cannabinoids for migraine pain, cannabis may also potentially aid in the opioid detoxification process. Since this category of medications is the one most often prescribed for chronic headaches, and it is one that is highly addictive and may lead to overdose, this natural substance may serve two benefits for individuals with this condition.
With the passage of the Farm Bill of 2018, more research on CBD for migraine headaches is expected to be conducted in the years ahead. This will give health providers a greater database of information from which to learn more about whether (and how) this drug helps with migraines, as well as what type of dosage is needed to offer a therapeutic effect.
In the meantime, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that some CBD manufacturers are marketing their products with not-yet-proven medical claims. Others are selling products with CBD in different levels than the label suggests, with the FDA also receiving complaints about some products containing contaminants that aren’t listed at all.
Based on this, it’s best to suggest that your patients choose products coming only from reputable manufacturers. This increases the chances that they contain the amount of CBD they say without also containing substances that could potentially do them harm.