Before beginning any treatment, it is important that you consult your healthcare provider and be open and honest about your plans. Having a strong doctor-patient relationship is key to establishing trust and determining an effective treatment plan that takes into account your lifestyle. “These drugs do interact with the body,” Dr. Silberstein says. “If you’re getting funny symptoms and you’re taking something that the doctor doesn’t know about, how’s he going to help you?”
Cannabidiol has taken the U.S. by storm recently. Commonly known as CBD, the active ingredient found in the cannabis, or marijuana, plant, is becoming increasingly available through online retailers, with claims of pain and inflammation reduction. And those living with migraine have taken notice.
Dr. Silberstein advises against obtaining a product in states in which CBD oil is not currently legal or regulated. Illegal forms of CBD oil could be spiked with artificial THC which could be very harmful to patients. Additionally, there are legal implications if you attempt to purchase it where it is currently illegal, so it is important to speak with your healthcare provider and check your local and state laws.
Lack of Regulation
In an effort to understand the benefits and risks of using CBD oil for migraine, we recently spoke with Dr. Stephen Silberstein, director of the Headache Center at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
For patients interested in CBD oil for the acute treatment of migraine, Dr. Silberstein says it is important to ensure that you are using a pure product. You are likely to receive a pure and safe product in states where CBD oil is legal and grown. Local dispensaries will also be of use in determining origin and quality.
There is no scientific evidence or research on CBD as an effective treatment for migraine—in large part because it has not been formally studied. However, it may still be a viable topical option for some patients with joint and muscle pain associated with migraine. “If you have a lot of neck pain or soreness, it is perfectly reasonable to use CBD oil. It may even prevent nausea and vomiting,” Dr. Silberstein says.
Dr. Silberstein also cautions against CBD oil or marijuana in use in adolescents, as it may affect the developing brain. “In general, it should be avoided by adolescents until more research has been conducted,” he adds.
Migraine is one of the world’s most prevalent neurological diseases, according to information from the Migraine Research Foundation, affecting approximately 39 million people in the U.S. and about one billion globally. Symptoms, which are often disabling, can include severe headache, dizziness, nausea, visual disturbances and severe sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine disease is commonly treated with strong pharmaceutical drugs, although with varying results.
“Our goal is to explore if our CBD isolate can help people who suffer from chronic headaches, like migraine. The results of the survey are promising,” Ben Rollins, the founder of Axon Relief, said in a press release.
The Axon CBD oil used in the migraine study.
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Photo courtesy of Axon Relief
Although some research has shown that migraine sufferers report more relief from cannabis than they do from prescription medications, clinical studies that focus specifically on the effect that CBD can have on migraine are yet to be conducted. However, a 2018 study found that CBD, a non-intoxicating constituent of cannabis, has several pharmacological properties including acting as an anti-inflammatory, and anecdotal accounts of CBD oil successfully being used for migraine show promise.
As many as 39 million Americans experience migraine.
“Since the ’90s I’ve been on constant high doses of carbamazepine and gabapentin. The periodic pain breakthroughs were only controlled by hydrocodone, which always made me feel. uncomfortable,” wrote Glen, a participant in Axon’s informal study. “What a change CBD oil has made: no more carbamazepine or hydrocodone, and only half the gabapentin—and far better pain control. Pain breakthroughs still happen, but another squirt of Axon CBD, and the pain is gone within 15 minutes. I have no side effects.”
The researchers add that given time, as the legalities around medical marijuana and CBD oil change, more research may be able to show that CBD oil works well enough and consistently enough to treat migraines.
Medical experts currently consider the pain from a migraine headache the result of intense stimulation to sensory nerves—a response to inflammatory agents which are released when a migraine occurs. This would explain why powerful analgesic and anti-inflammatory agents, such as CBD oil, may be effective in the treatment of migraines.
Additionally, a 2017 review of cannabis treatment for headaches outlined existing research, patient surveys, and case reports showing the efficacy of cannabis for migraine and other headache disorders. A 2018 review described experimental evidence for the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of migraine as well as other headaches and chronic pain.
Previous research studies have shown that CBD oil, unlike THC, does not cause a euphoric high or psychotropic effects, and is typically less controversial and safer for medicinal use. CBD oil has been shown, in a limited number of studies, to be effective in the treatment of many disorders, including diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and migraines.
CBD oil has gotten a lot of attention for its powerful pain-relieving properties, particularly since cannabis use is becoming legal in many states (33 as of October 2019, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but details vary). In June 2018, the FDA approved CBD for the first time for a new seizure medication called Epidiolex (cannabidiol) [CBD] oral solution.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of over 100 different substances found in the the Cannabis sativa plant. The portion of the cannabis plant that produces a high (the psychotropic effect) is called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Depending on how it’s processed, CBD oil contains very little (or is completely void of) THC.
“Cannabinoids—due to their anticonvulsive, analgesic, antiemetic, and anti-inflammatory effects —present a promising class of compounds for both acute [short-term, severe] and prophylactic [preventative] treatment of migraine pain,” explained lead study author Pinja Leimuranta, of the University of Eastern Finland. Although the researchers say that we are not completely there yet, they add that CBD oil can “absolutely help relieve some symptoms related to migraines.”