Some potential good news for migraine sufferers: A study suggests that cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, might be able to help with the neurological headaches.
In 105 migraine sufferers who used CBD oil for 30 days, 86 percent reported that the oil showed a decrease in headache impact, with 3.8 fewer days of headaches—a 23 percent decrease. Sponsored by the CBD company Axion Relief and done via survey, the study hints at what many headache sufferers have reported for years: The bliss-inducing, body-supporting powers of CBD could be a help for the neurological condition.
While the link isn’t fully understood, past research has implicated the endocannabinoid system (which CBD is thought to impact) with pain management—and in particular, migraine pain management. As one research review on the topic put it, the “endocannabinoid system is active in stress-responsive parts of central and peripheral nervous system, functioning to reduce pain and to alleviate neurodegenerative and inflammatory damage...All these mechanisms are linked, directly or indirectly, to the migraine pathology.”
This news is potentially huge—especially for chronic migraineurs. In a particularly hopeful part of the story, the improvement was especially significant for respondents with chronic migraine, defined as patients who have 15 or more migraines per 30-day period. That group had a 33 percent drop in headache frequency.
However, don’t break out the celebratory champagne just yet—another recent study by Stanford University School of Medicine has found that cannabis use correlated with an increase in rebound (a.k.a. medication overuse) headaches. In fact, cannabis users were almost six times more likely to have these repeat episodes than those who didn’t.
However, it’s important to note that this is a chicken or egg question—it’s not yet clear if people who get rebound headaches are more likely to try to incorporate cannabis into their routines, or if the cannabis is somehow causing an increase. Adding to the ambiguity, yet another study published in 2020 found that among people using the substance in a medically prescribed way, 85 percent of reported a decrease in migraine frequency. In other words, research in this area is mixed, so more will need to be done before we consider this a slam-dunk for the headache community.
But there will be a lot of fingers crossed. After all, migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world, according to The Migraine Research Foundation. And anything that may help get those episodes under control could have wide-reaching impacts improvements for quality of life.