When you get a migraine, do you ever reach for an aspirin? Many people do and plenty of medical professionals would prescribe that as well. But way back before aspirin took on the pill form we’re familiar with today, it was a simple piece of willow bark, which you could chew to release the same active ingredient: Salicin.
Much in the same way, CBD oil, which you can now buy in lots of different forms, over the counter, around the world, is also derived from a plant with immense therapeutic potential: cannabis. The only difference is cannabis has been given a bit of a bad rap over the past 100 years, thanks to a huge wave of propaganda set into motion for financial, political, and even racist reasons, which we won’t go into today. But as should always be the case, science now trumps hearsay. With over 41,000 studies into cannabis and the endocannabinoid system (our in-built homeostatic regulator, with which cannabis interacts) we can put to bed all the lingering misinformation and skewed perceptions of this incredible offering from the natural world, and instead, start exploring new and exciting ways it can be put to good use.
One of the most ground-breaking revelations to date comes from a review of 10 year’s worth of studies, put together by a global leader in cannabinoid research, Dr. Ethan Russo. In his paper, he examines the evidence that an endocannabinoid deficiency (where the neurotransmitters that are synthesized and released on demand to activate the endocannabinoid system, are in seriously short supply) may actually be the root cause of a variety of seemingly ‘treatment-resistant conditions, including migraines.
If you’ve been thinking of using CBD for Migraines, this should come as good news! But understanding why may need a little explaining first…
CBD for Migraines
A migraine is much more than your average headache – this condition is classed as a neurological disease and is often accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, being sick, sensitivity to light and sound, and an ‘aura’ or flashing light impairing vision. It’s thought that migraines affect 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men, but despite being so common, the cause remains a mystery and, currently, there’s no cure.
But Dr. Ethan’s research (and the studies that followed) may change that.
As it stands, very few doctors are trained in the endocannabinoid system – even though we know it is one of the body’s major physiological systems and regulators for all bodily functions. In fact, a survey undertaken in 2017 found that only 13% of medical schools in the US train their students in this complex network (an alarming statistic, given that 36 states now offer a comprehensive medical cannabis program). There’s yet to be a UK version of this survey, but the results are likely to be even less. Because of this, it’s not all that surprising that the ECS has not been taken into consideration when exploring the potential causes and treatments for migraines, however, Dr. Russo’s eminent findings suggest this must be brought to the forefront of research.
An endocannabinoid deficiency, which Russo proposes may be key to understanding and treating migraines, is when our endocannabinoids, Anandamide and 2-AG, are not being properly created and released. As a result, the endocannabinoid system cannot work properly and all the bodily processes it oversees and regulates are then free to go awry. Fortunately, alongside things like exercise, meditation, and including certain foods in your diet, CBD oil can help support the endocannabinoid system. The CBD molecule prevents endocannabinoids that are produced from being broken down (resulting in higher levels in the body) and other cannabinoids like CBG and THC, can even directly activate endocannabinoid receptors (like endocannabinoids do), therefore acting as the ideal supplement.
In Russo’s review, he notes that the release of Anandamide (which may be missing in the case of an endocannabinoid deficiency) increases the strength of nerve impulses from one type of serotonin receptor (5-HT1A) while inhibiting another (5-HT2A), which matches the pharmacological actions of treatments used to effectively ease migraine symptoms.
He also suggests that the common symptoms of sensitivity to light and sound may indicate a well-known central nervous system imbalance, called overactive sensory hyperalgesia, which a fully functioning Endocannabinoid system has been shown to be able to correct.
CBD oil and migraine relief
The review goes on to examine further actions of cannabinoids like CBD for migraines, including the exploration of activating vanilloid/capsaicin receptors, which are heavily involved in pain transmission and perception.
Capsaicin (a chemical compound isolated from chili peppers) has been successfully used both topically and as a spray up the nose to reduce the pain associated with migraines, but as you can probably imagine this isn’t the most pleasant process! Fortunately, CBD oil may offer a less noxious alternative, as the CBD molecule (which CBD oil is rich in) directly activates these receptors in a similar way.
The THC molecule has also been shown to possess some really exciting potential for offering migraine relief, however, this is not legal in levels above a minimal 0.2% in store-bought full-spectrum CBD oil. However, you may wish to choose the full spectrum in case that little amount has some benefit.
Best way to use CBD oil for migraines
Just as demonstrated with capsaicin, you can try applying CBD oil topically, to your temples and forehead. Many people enjoy using CBD oil rollers for this, which often include other soothing ingredients and essential oils. You could also try a CBD vape pen in times of need, as this has the fastest onset.
Using CBD drops or capsules regularly is also a great idea, to help support your endocannabinoid system overall, therefore boosting endocannabinoid production and release which may help combat an endocannabinoid deficiency.
CBD dosage for migraines
As explained in our recent article ‘how long does CBD stay in my system?’, cannabinoids, like CBD, are accumulative. This means to see the best results you should use CBD regularly and consistently, not just at the moment you think you need it.
If you take a daily dose of CBD oil, the cannabinoids will stay active in your body for much longer (2-5 days, as opposed to 1-2 hours), so when a migraine strikes you can take a few drops to ‘top up’ and end up with a higher dose right away, which is likely to be what you’ll need.