CBD Oil for Headaches: Treating Headaches and Migraine with CBD Oil
Recognised as being safe and well tolerated by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is offering fresh hope to millions of people who suffer regularly from headaches and migraines.
What are headaches?
Headaches. They’re an ache in your head. They hurt. A lot. But there are different types and different causes, and some are more serious than others. A simple definition of headache is, “pain in any region of the head”. If only treating headaches was that simple.
“Despite many treatment options, less than half of headache sufferers experience remission, and many continue to develop more severe or chronic headaches throughout their lifetime.”
—The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders, University of California—
CBD for headache symptoms
Research supports cannabinoids as effective against a multitude of headache symptoms, including: neuropathic pain that can cause chronic headaches, tension headache muscle strain, and nausea and vomiting associated with migraine, due to their antiemetic properties.
“If we had to start from scratch and design a medicine to help lead us out of the opioid epidemic, it would look very much like cannabis.”
—Dr Sanjay Gupta, Neurologist & Chief CNN Medical Correspondent—
Different types of headaches
With 150 different types of headaches, the most common are tension and migraine headaches. Cluster, medication-overuse, and glaucoma headaches are also well documented.
Some are mild and occasional, others are frequent and crippling. Their causes are many and varied, and their pathology is often not well understood. Whatever the cause, they all have one thing in common, and that’s pain in the head, neck, or both. Let’s have a look at the main ones and see how CBD oil can help relieve the unpleasant symptoms of headaches and migraine.
Classed by Headache Australia as the most prevalent headache disorder, tension headaches affect around 7 million Australians.
Symptoms of tension headache
Tension headaches feel like a tight band of pressure around your skull. Imagine a metal clamp going around your head, and someone keeps tightening the screws. You can’t really even point to ‘where it hurts’, because it hurts everywhere.
Causes of tension headache
Although it’s not really known what causes tension headaches, some of the more widely accepted theories include: stress and anxiety, as well as jaw clenching and bad posture which can lead to inflammation in the head and neck muscles.
Conventional treatments for tension headaches and their side effects
Depending on the severity, tension headache symptoms are usually treated with a combination of over-the-counter, pain-killing analgesics such as paracetamol, NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen, or prescription opioids such as codeine and oxycodone.
Project CBD has published this sobering little read on the side effects of common NSAIDs like ibuprofen, voltaren, and aspirin.
Recognising the significant potential for misuse, and the increasing numbers of fatalities worldwide from prescription opioids, the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation says: “there is increasing concern among medical professionals about the risks of using these drugs, particularly when they are used for a long time.”
How CBD oil helps relieve tension headaches
CBD oil has virtually no potential for abuse and can help to safely relieve the symptoms of tension headaches via its anti-anxiolytic and anti-inflammatory actions. For detailed discussion on how CBD can help to treat these common causes of tension headaches, read our in-depth articles on using CBD for anxiety and using CBD for inflammation.
“Using dangerous drugs instead of a healing and non-toxic plant is simply ridiculous….multiple studies have proven the anti-inflammatory benefits of phytocannabinoids”
—Dr Bonni Goldstein, MD, Physician—
Oft misused to describe a ‘bad headache’, migraine headaches have a fairly specific pathology and can be highly disabling.
Symptoms of migraine headaches
Some say tension headache symptoms are difficult to distinguish from migraines. However, if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to suffer from both types regularly, you will know the difference.
Some—but not all—migraine sufferers report experiencing a visual disturbance called an ‘aura’ before the eyes, prior to the onset of pain. An aura looks like those dazzling zigzags of light when a camera flash blinds you.
As you slowly lose your peripheral vision, the aura lasts around 45 minutes, then the migraine headache starts in earnest, and the aura goes away. Confined to one side of the head, the throbbing pain is usually behind one eye or the other.
Unmistakable in its ferocity, the migraine headache forces you to turn off the lights, go to your bed, and put the vomit bucket beside you. Call in sick to work because chances are you won’t be getting up for a few days.
Recovering from a migraine headache can almost feel like you’re hungover and bruised in the part of your brain that felt like it was hurting (you can’t feel pain in your brain as it has no pain receptors, but to a migraine sufferer that is what it feels like).
Causes of migraine headaches
Despite the fact that around 15% of the population suffers from migraine, science has still not identified a definitive cause.
Described by some as a complicated neurogenic condition (that produces neuropathic pain), there is a likely genetic component, whereby migraine runs in families.
Identified triggers (see a detailed discussion of triggers here) include: hormones, anxiety and stress, excitement, certain medications, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of food, too much caffeine, and environmental factors such as flickering lights, strong perfumes, or even a flash of sunlight in the eyes.
Conventional treatments for migraine headaches and their side effects
With no cure at hand, sufferers use a combination of supplements aimed at prevention; or analgesics for symptom-management, such as over-the-counter painkillers and prescription opioids. Antiemetics are also used for vomiting and nausea.
When it comes to using opioids as your first line of defence, you are at risk of a couple of other side effects apart from death and addiction. One such side effect is referred to as opiate-induced hyperalgesia where you become even more sensitive to pain with continued opioid use, and the other is opioid resistance or tolerance where the opioids just don’t work like they did in the beginning, so you keep having to take higher and higher doses to (ineffectively) manage your pain.
“(Opioids) are associated with a formidable array of side effects, some of them potentially lethal”
—Dr Christina Hayhurst & Dr Marcel Durieux—
How CBD oil helps relieve migraine headaches
A 2017 review of the research literature suggests that the Central Nervous System (CNS) is heavily implicated in the underlying pathology of migraine. Cannabidiol is used successfully by many Multiple Sclerosis sufferers to manage neuropathic pain symptoms, so this is a promising treatment option for migraineurs.
Finnish researchers published their 2018 hypothesis that migraine is the result of a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD), proposing low doses of CBD to keep the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in balance and prevent migraine. Viewing migraine pain as a combination of both neuropathic and nociceptive pain, they claim that cannabinoids work to block peripheral and nociceptive migraine pain via CB1 receptors in the brain and CB2 receptors in the immune system associated with inflammation. They concluded that cannabinoids “present a promising class of compounds for both acute and prophylactic treatment of migraine pain.”
“Cannabinoids present a promising class of compounds for both acute and prophylactic treatment of migraine pain.”
—Emerging Role of (Endo)Cannabinoids in Migraine—
Cluster headaches occur in clusters or groups. Episodic sufferers report several headaches a day for several weeks. Some chronic sufferers report no remission of symptoms, with debilitating headaches continuing for months at a time.
Symptoms of cluster headaches
Characterised by extreme pain in the head, temples, cheeks, behind one eye, and even the gums, the pain is said to be excruciating. Eyelids may droop, eyes may water, and the nose may either become runny or blocked. Lying down can exacerbate the pain, so sufferers may choose to pace up and down, in a restless or agitated manner.
Causes of cluster headaches
Alcohol and histamines are possible triggers of attacks. Smoking is a risk factor for developing cluster headaches, as are genetics.
Conventional treatment of cluster headaches and their side effects
Oxygen therapy is one treatment used at the onset of a cluster headache.
Better known for its use in patients with hypertension and heart problems—and even though it only has a Class C level of evidence—a calcium channel blocker (CCB) called Verapamil is widely prescribed as a preventative. It’s contraindicated for patients with low blood pressure and congestive heart failure, as well as those with atrial fibrillation, atrioventricular blocks, and people taking beta blockers.
“The initial use of verapamil hydrochloride injection should, if possible, be in a treatment setting with monitoring and resuscitation facilities”
A class of drugs known as Triptans or tryptamines (such as Sumatriptan) are commonly prescribed to reduce the severity of cluster headaches. These Serotonin Receptor Agonists activate 5-HT—or serotonin as most of us know it—to increase feelings of wellbeing and reduce vaso-constriction of blood vessels in the brain by activating 5-HT1B and 5-HT1D specifically.
Triptan use is contraindicated if you have cardio-vascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the USA and Australia, so this contraindication is potentially very serious.
Triptans may also be contraindicated for people taking SSRI antidepressants as they are at risk of Serotonin Syndrome, an overdose of serotonin on the CNS.
Neurologists at one UK hospital concluded in 2015 that for all the many and varied treatments used in an attempt to manage cluster headache symptoms, there is a “scarcity of robust evidence for the majority of the drugs used.”
“there is a scarcity of robust evidence for the majority of the drugs used.”
—Department of Neurology, Hull Royal Infirmary, UK—
How CBD oil helps relieve cluster headaches
An Italian research team revealed that cluster-headache sufferers given a THC-CBD combination experienced a 43.5% reduction in pain, but only if they had also experienced migraine since childhood.
A University of California research team cited a 2004 research article that indicated around 25% of cluster patients could benefit by using cannabinoids.
After a catastrophic methane-gas spill in northern Los Angeles, a 62-year-old male patient affected by cluster headaches believes CBD gave him much needed relief from agonising cluster headaches which started only after the gas leak. “I was very glad that the CBD oil’s rumored effectiveness as a pain vanquisher was right on the money”. Associate Professor Saoirse O’Sullivan explained, “serotonin agonism helps increase blood flow, so if there is a lack of oxygen in this patient causing the headaches, CBD may have helped with this. As CBD also reduces stress and anxiety, this could have benefited the patient if tension was aggravating the headache.”
A disease of the optic nerve, and the leading cause of blindness, Glaucoma affects around 3 million Americans and 300,000 Australians.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Excessive intraocular pressure causes a headache behind the eyes (sometimes mistaken for migraine).
How CBD oil helps relieve Glaucoma headaches
CBD was acknowledged as a treatment for glaucoma in a 2003 study, due to its neuroprotective effects. If you reduce intraocular eye pressure, you reduce the cause of glaucoma-induced headache. Cannabinoids were shown to reduce eye pressure by up to 30% in 1971. In 2004, UK researchers concluded that cannabinoids, including CBD, are a potential treatment for glaucoma.
“Cannabinoids effectively lower the intraocular pressure and have neuroprotective actions.”
—Department of Ophthalmology, University of Aberdeen, UK—
Medication overuse headaches (MOH)
Imagine taking analgesics regularly for your migraine or tension-headache symptoms, only to find your headaches are getting more frequent and your painkillers are becoming less effective. That’s medication overuse headache (MOH), and it’s a common and chronic headache disorder.
Symptoms of MOH
Your baseline headaches become more frequent, so you take more painkillers. You develop a chronic headache on an almost daily basis, so the vicious cycle of taking more and more painkillers continues.
Causes of MOH
Medication overuse headaches develop when you take painkillers too frequently. Medications that can cause MOH include panadol, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, triptans, endone, panadeine forte, mersyndol, and panadol extra. If your painkiller contains opioids you are at greater risk of developing MOH, i.e. codeine, morphine, fentanyl, endone, panadeine forte, and mersyndol.
Conventional treatments for MOH and their side effects
Conventional treatment aims for withdrawal and detoxification from the offending drugs, then more medications in the forms of prophylactics (i.e. preventatives).
Withdrawal symptoms follow for a few days after you start weaning from the medications (you can’t stop taking opioids abruptly). The headache will get worse before it gets better, and the sufferer will enjoy other symptoms such as, “nausea, vomiting, hypotension, tachycardia, sleep disturbances, restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness.”
How CBD oil helps relieve MOH
Using phytocannabinoids like CBD to treat headache symptoms will avoid the onset of MOH in the first place. However, if the horse has already bolted, then using CBD oil makes absolute sense to aid in the withdrawal from opioids and triptans, whilst continuing to treat the headache symptoms.
Research published in 2008 concluded that MOH sufferers had a depleted or dysfunctional endocannabinoid system (ECS), thus supporting the role of cannabinoids like CBD in modulating pain and anxiety and treating MOH symptoms.
CBD is effective in opioid withdrawal. One study showed that CBD blocks the neural pathway that makes opioids so addictive, i.e. “cannabidiol interferes with brain reward mechanisms responsible for the expression of the acute reinforcing properties of opioids.” The researchers concluded that cannabidiol can be used to reduce the addictiveness of opioids. Researchers from Mt Sinai Medical in New York have been vocal in their support of using CBD for opiate withdrawal. The important role of CBD in opiate withdrawal was also recognised in this 2015 review.
Headache sufferers who use CBD oil
Headache sufferers are turning to CBD oil to manage their painful symptoms.
“I haven’t had a headache since I started taking CBD and I used to get them all the time. I also haven’t slept this good in a very long time. Can’t tell you how great that feels.” Read more…
“Her every day constant migraine and nausea problems have met their match.” Read more…
“Excellent product that actually works for my horrible migraines and fibromyalgia pain” Read more…
“stop my children’s chronic migraine in its tracks – without Auras, without vomiting, without being bedridden for 2 weeks! We have been unable to achieve this with any medication, it is a lifesaver in the fact that it actually gives my teens quality of life.” Read more…
“Best natural remedy for my cluster migraines.
I’ve got my life back. Less to no pain, relaxing,
calming. It feels good to be in my body again.” Read more…
“After hearing that fentanyl is harder to get off of than heroin, it’s been pretty amazing. I hope the efficacy of CBD in aiding opiate withdrawal becomes more commonly known. It’s truly incredible.” Read more…
Conclusion – CBD Oil for Headaches
With the side effects and dangers of opioid and NSAIDS drugs now well known, and the mounting evidence in support of using cannabidiol to effectively and safely manage the symptoms of chronic pain and inflammation, CBD oil presents a safe and virtually risk-free option for headache sufferers who want a natural solution to their chronic headache pain.