The use of CBD for migraines date back several millennia. Documentation exists that the Chinese were using cannabis as far back as 2700 BC.
The Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus, a medical text from Egypt that dates back to 1200 BC, mentions using cannabis as a pain medication for headaches. (https://www.ancient.eu/article/1015/ancient-egyptian-medical-texts/)
In the 1800s and early 1900s, physicians and scientists researched the use of cannabis for headaches and migraines extensively. Among the physicians in this period that touted the use of cannabis to treat headache disorders included:
- John Russell Reynolds, the personal physician of Queen Victoria
- Silas Weir Mitchell, the president of the New York Neurological Society
- William Gowers, a founding father of modern neurology
- Sir William Osler, a founding professor of Johns Hopkins Hospital
Cannabis contains 113 known chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Two of the main cannabinoids are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
While both are contained within the cannabis plants, the amount of these chemicals vary significantly. In strains of cannabis that are used for marijuana, the THC content is high. In strains that are used for hemp, the THC content is low, so much so that it can only be found in trace amounts. The THC content in commercial hemp in the United States must be less than 0.3% for it to be legally produced.
In all strains of help the CBD content can vary, but is found in higher concentration in hemp plants. While THC is known for psychoactive intoxicating effects, CBD has no such effect when taken on without or with trace amounts of THC present.
What is a Migraine?
Globally, migraines affect about 15% of the population and are one of the most common forms of disability. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6350784/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605509/)
In the European Union and the United States alone, it’s estimated that the costs related to the loss of productivity total in excess of $60 billion each year. For those who can work while being medicated for the condition, the average productivity of their work is decreased by up to 1/3rd.
A migraine is a severe headache that can last for several hours. It has specific symptoms which usually:
- Affects half of the head.
- Are presented in a pulsating nature to the sufferer.
- May include buts of nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell.
- Are amplified by physical activity.
- May be preceded by a short period of visual disturbance that signals that the headache will soon occur known as an aura.
- Starts manifesting at puberty and as the person gets older.
Migraines usually (but not always) affect the sufferer in 4 phases. These phases are:
- The prodrome – these are precursor symptoms that occur up to 2 days before the migraine starts. About 60% of migraine sufferers experience prodrome symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- Altered mood
- Craving for certain foods
- Sensitivity to noise
- Sensitivity to odors
- Stiff muscles
- The aura – A disruption in a person’s perceptions. An aura will usually last less than an hour and can be as short as a minute. Up to 30% of migraine sufferers experience an aura of some sort. It can appear to a person as a strange light, an odor, or simply as confusing thoughts. Auras can present themselves in many ways including:
- A Curtain-like effect over one eye
- A sudden feeling of anxiety, fear or foreboding
- Blind or dark spots in the field of vision
- Bright lights and blobs
- Buzzing, tremolo, amplitude modulation or other sounds
- Déjà vu
- Distortions in the size or shape of objects
- Feelings of being separated from or floating above one’s body
- Forgetting how to do common tasks
- Hearing voices or sounds that do not exist
- Heightened sensitivity to hearing
- Heightened sensitivity to light
- Inability to speak or slurred speech
- Kaleidoscope effects on visual field
- Not comprehending spoken words
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Perception of movement of the head or inside the head
- Shimmering, pulsating patches, often curved
- Slowly spreading spots
- Strange smells or tastes
- Temporary blindness in one or both eyes
- The feeling of overheating and sudden perspiration
- The sensation of limbs or teeth growing
- Tunnel vision
- Vibrating visual field
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Zigzag lines
- The pain (headache) phase – This is the actual throbbing and constant pressure the sufferer feels during the migraine. Usually, it starts moderately and builds intensity as time goes on. Most migraines last from an hour up to 3 days. The pain that the sufferer feels usually occurs in the top or back of the head. Migraines can vary in the number of times they occur in a person. Some will only experience a few in their lifetime, some may get them several times a week. The intensity of the pain is usually made worse by physical activity (such as walking) and most find it necessary to lie down during an attack. Most of the time, the headache is accompanied by one or more of the following:
- A sense of the world spinning
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
- Nasal stuffiness
- Neck stiffness
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to odors
- Sensitivity to sound
- Sudden loss of color in the skin (going pale, also known as pallor)
- Swelling or tenderness of the scalp
- The postdrome – These are the aftereffects of the migraine. While these aftereffects can either present differently each time or not at all, many sufferers experience one or more of the following as postdrome effects:
- Brain fog or a feeling of being “hung over”
- Cognitive difficulties
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Head pain in the area where the migraine presented
- Mood changes
- Sudden euphoric feelings
What Causes Migraines?
This has been a question that’s been asked for millennia. Documentation of migraines dates back to almost 3000 BC. However, no root cause has ever been determined as the reason for migraines.
In ancient times, many believed the cause of migraines and other issues associated with mental health as evil spirits trapped in the brain. This led to the practice of trepanation.
Trepanation is a type of surgery where a hole is drilled or dug into a person’s skull. Evidence of trepanation dates back to 6500 BC, where 40 skulls were found with holes cut into them in a burial site in what’s now France.
The ancient argument for trepanation was that the hole(s) would release the evil spirits in the brain.
And while the thought of drilling a hole in someone’s head sounds a bit gruesome, the practice still is done today as a part of modern medicine to relieve intracranial pressure as a result of hematomas.
Despite not knowing an exact cause of migraines, scientists believe that a number of factors can play a role in a person having a migraine.
Some of these factors include:
- Mental disorders – including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder
- Genetic factors – Inherited genetic disorders or the presence of certain genes that make a person more susceptible to migraines
- Triggers – Events that cause, or trigger, the migraine. Triggers can be physiological, environmental, or even dietary. Some examples of triggers for migraines include:
- Abuse (physical, emotional, and verbal)
- Certain types of indoor lighting
- Eating certain foods
- Oral contraceptive use
- Poor air quality
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
CBD for the Treatment of Migraines
The natural properties of CBD work with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to help alleviate pain. This includes pain stemming from headaches and migraines. The ECS is a system of neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, the central nervous system, and peripheral nervous system. In other words, the body has a naturally occurring system that processes cannabinoids such as CBD to maintain the body’s functioning.
While research has been one of the effects of cannabis in the treatment of headaches and migraines in the past (prior to 1940) there’s a lack of modern studies, specifically with CBD by itself. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any studies, just that there are more needed.
One such study titled Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population studied “effects of cannabinoids on serotonin in the central nervous system” and their effect “on the monthly frequency of migraine headache.”
This study lasted nearly 5 years and consisted of 121 adults who suffered migraines. All of these adults were prescribed medical marijuana for their migraines.
The results of the study were very positive. The average participant saw a decrease of over 50% in the frequency of their migraines and 40% reported positive results of the medical marijuana in helping their migraines. Over 10% stated that their migraines were completely gone while consuming medicinal marijuana.
It should be noted that in the study, the most profound positive effects were found by people who inhaled marijuana (either via a marijuana cigarette or through an e-cigarette or vape). People who used edibles saw more negative effects than those who consumed it in other ways. This is believed to be due to the timing and potency of the dose. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26749285
More studies need to be performed on the effects of CBD on migraines. However the healing properties that CBD has been proven to have, combined with the ways that migraines occur, then it can be said that CBD can be an effective tool in combating migraines.
A migraine is considered a neurovascular disorder. Migraines are believed to start in the brain and spread to the blood vessels. From there it is believed to trigger neurons in the cerebral cortex and the brainstem, which is part of the central nervous system.
CBD has been found to have the following properties:
The analgesic, the antidepressant, the anti-inflammatory, and the neuroprotective properties of CBD could all work together to not just relieve the pain that a person suffers but to protect and prevent future reoccurrences.
A study from Brazil in 2014, titled Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa addresses the use of CBD and neuroreceptors. Specifically, the neuroreceptors named 5-HT1A. This is commonly known as a serotonin receptor. One theory regarding the cause of migraines involves a lack of serotonin. This study showed that high concentrations of CBD activated this receptor. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24923339
In another study “CBD was observed to stimulate hippocampal neurogenesis. Neuroprotective effects of CBD in hypoxic-ischemic brain damage model involve adenosine A2 receptors. CBD activation of adenosine receptors can enhance adenosine signaling to mediate anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938896/)
Because the cause of migraines can’t be determined, many people go years without effective treatment. Many are told to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ward off the pain. Some may be given prescriptions that include opiates to help with the pain. These may only provide a modicum of relief for migraine sufferers.
Others may try holistic remedies such as peppermint oil, acupuncture, acupressure, lavender oil, or changes in diet. In many cases, these only give minor relief.
CBD provides the anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties that are required in alleviating headaches and migraines. While more testing is needed, the evidence thus far is showing that CBD is effective in treating migraine suffers.