Find out what the most recent research says about the safety and effectiveness of CBD oil for migraines. Can marijuana help treat or prevent migraines? WebMD explores how pot works for headache pain and the possible side effects.
Can CBD Oil Treat a Migraine?
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer’s research.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Huma Sheikh, MD, is a board-certified neurologist, specializing in migraine and stroke, and affiliated with Mount Sinai of New York.
With the laws governing the legal use of medical marijuana beginning to loosen up, there’s quite a bit of focus on the use of CBD oil—a component of the marijuana plant—for treating everything from arthritis to chronic pain, including migraines. But what is CBD oil, and does it really work to relieve migraine headaches?
Verywell / Ellen Lindner
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.
Due to the pervasiveness and debilitating effects of migraine headaches, there’s been a lot of clinical research aimed at trying to find an effective treatment to minimize the frequency of migraines and alleviate the pain.
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.
Properties of CBD Oil That Relieve Migraine
- Potent analgesic (pain relieving) properties
- Antiemetic (preventing nausea and vomiting) properties
- Powerful anti-inflammatory effects
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.
According to a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacy, while there are many experts who advocate for the use of CBD oil for migraines, there is still not enough evidence to prove that treatment will CBD oil will be completely effective for alleviating migraine headaches.
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.
“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.”
While few clinical research studies have examined the use of CBD to treat migraines, a 2016 study, published in Pharmacotherapy, found that the frequency of migraines was reduced from nearly 10 per month to only approximately four per month in a group of medical marijuana users. Research presented in 2017 at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology showed that cannabinoids might help prevent migraines as well as easing the pain of migraine headache.
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.
Uses and Safety
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.
The type of cannabis that CBD is composed of is well tolerated and safe in humans. In one study, when cannabis with THC was given to study subjects, they experienced an increased heart rate, anxiety, and psychotic symptoms. However, participants who took CBD oil—lacking THC—did not experience side effects (including psychotic symptoms).
Should You Use It?
Anyone considering the use of CBD oil for migraines should consult with their healthcare provider before taking it. It’s important to note that not all sources of the product are reputable.
Prescription drugs with CBD do not have any THC at all. But many over-the-counter CBD oil products, such as those sold online, contain trace amounts of THC.
Another important action step to take before deciding to use CBD oil is to check to ensure that it is legal in your home state. Many states still consider even the prescribed use of CBD oil illegal, due to its link to marijuana. And the FDA has not approved any CBD products (prescription or over-the-counter), aside from Epidiolex.
This certainly does not indicate that people with migraines should stop searching for an effective treatment to alleviate pain and discomfort, nor should they give up hope. There are many proven effective solutions available for those who suffer from migraine headaches.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Lochte BC, Beletsky A, Samuel NK, Grant I. The use of cannabis for headache disorders. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):61-71. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0033
Leimuranta P, Khiroug L, Giniatullin R. Emerging role of (endo)cannabinoids in migraine. Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:420. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00420
Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
Nicolodi M, Sandoval V, Terrine A. Therapeutic use of cannabinoids – dose finding, effects, and pilot data of effects in chronic migraine and cluster headache. Abstract presentation at 3rd congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), Amsterdam, 2017.
Medical Marijuana and CBD Oils for Migraines
Migraine headaches can be tough to treat. If your pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light or noise don’t get better with over-the-counter or even prescription drugs, is there another option?
Marijuana might be one under-the-counter remedy for migraine relief. Some research shows that it may help ease migraine symptoms or possibly keep them from starting. But most studies haven’t found solid proof of that.
And in some states, it isn’t legal to buy, grow, own, or use marijuana, even for medical reasons. Make sure you find out about your state’s laws before trying it.
How Does Pot Ease Pain?
Marijuana is another name for cannabis, a bushy plant that’s used to make paper, rope, and other products.
Inside your brain and other parts of your body, you have a network of cannabinoid receptors. These are tiny loops of protein that affect how you feel pain.
Marijuana has natural compounds called cannabinoids. When you use it, these cannabinoids go into your body and look for the receptors. They change how the receptors work, and they may calm down pain signals.
Cannabinoids may also help with nausea, anxiety, muscle spasms, or other health problems.
THC is the cannabinoid in marijuana that gets most of the attention. It’s what makes you feel high or relaxed. But another product made from cannabis called cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t make you feel intoxicated and may help ease pain. Several states have made it legal for CBD to be used for medical reasons.
Does It Work for Migraines?
There’s not a lot of research on this. In a study at the University of Colorado, 121 people who got regular migraine headaches used marijuana daily to prevent attacks. About 40% of them said the number of migraine headaches they got each month was cut in half.
The people used different types of marijuana, but they mostly inhaled it to ease a migraine in progress and some found that it did help stop the pain. Edible products didn’t seem to work as well.
The people who inhaled or smoked marijuana also said it was easier to control the amount of the drug they took in, and they had fewer negative reactions.
What Are the Risks?
If you smoke or eat marijuana, it can make you feel dizzy, weak, confused, sleepy, or moody. And smoking it on a regular basis could harm your heart and lung health over time. Regular use could also lead to addiction and other problems. Short-term use doesn’t seem to be bad for your general health.
Marijuana is legal for medical use in more than half the states in the U.S. But each state has different laws about how you can buy it or how much you can have. In several states, it’s still illegal to have it even if you have a medical problem that it could treat.
If you have a job, it’s a good idea to know your employer’s rules around drug testing and use, even if it’s legal for medical use in your state. Tests can tell if you have marijuana in your system. And it can stay there up to 30 days after you’ve used it.
National Headache Foundation: “Migraine.”
Baron, EP. Headache. June 2015.
University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health: “Medical Marijuana for the Treatment of Migraine Headaches: An Evidence Review.”
National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws.”
Manzanares, J. Current Neuropharmacology. July 2006.
Benbadis, S. Expert Reviews of Neurotherapeutics. Published online Nov. 2014.
Project CBD.org: “What Is CBD?”
Rhyne, D. Pharmacotherapy. Jan. 2016.
Americans for Safe Access: “Guide to Using Medical Cannabis.”
Degenhardt, L and Hall, WD. Canadian Medical Association Journal. June 2008.
National Association of Attorneys General: “The Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Employment Law.”
National Institute on Drug Abuse: “The Biology and Potential Therapeutic Effects of Cannabidiol.”
State of Oregon: “Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana in the Workplace.”