Migraine attacks go beyond the typical stress- or allergy-related headache. Migraine attacks last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. Even the most mundane activities, such as moving or being around noise and light, can amplify your symptoms.

While pain medications can help temporarily alleviate symptoms of migraine attacks, you may be concerned about their side effects. This is where cannabidiol (CBD) may come in.

CBD is one of the many active compounds found in the cannabis plant. It’s grown in popularity as a way to naturally treat certain medical conditions.

Keep reading to find out:

  • what the current research says about using CBD for migraine
  • how it works
  • potential side effects and more

Research on the use of CBD for migraine is limited. Existing studies look at the combined effects of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a different cannabinoid. There are currently no published studies that examine the effects of CBD as a single ingredient on migraine.

This limited research is due, in part, to regulations on CBD and obstacles with cannabis legalization. Still, some laboratory studies have suggested that CBD oil may help all forms of chronic and acute pain, including migraine.

Study on CBD and THC

In 2017, at the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), a group of researchers presented the results of their study on cannabinoids and migraine prevention.

In phase I of their study, 48 people with chronic migraine received a combination of two compounds. One compound contained 19 percent THC, while the other contained 9 percent CBD and virtually no THC. The compounds were administered orally.

Doses under 100 milligrams (mg) had no effect. When doses were increased to 200 mg, acute pain was reduced by 55 percent.

Phase II of the study looked at people with chronic migraine or cluster headaches. The 79 people with chronic migraine received a daily dose of 200 mg of the THC-CBD combination from phase I or 25 mg of amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant.

The 48 people with cluster headaches received a daily dose of 200 mg of the THC-CBD combination from phase I or 480 mg of verapamil, a calcium channel blocker.

The treatment period lasted for three months, and a follow-up occurred four weeks after treatment ended.

The THC-CBD combination reduced migraine attacks by 40.4 percent, while amitriptyline led to a 40.1 percent reduction in migraine attacks. The THC-CBD combination also reduced the intensity of the pain by 43.5 percent.

Participants with cluster headaches only saw a slight decrease in the severity and frequency of their headaches.

However, some did see their pain intensity drop by 43.5 percent. This drop in pain intensity was only observed in participants who’d had migraine attacks that began in childhood.

The researchers concluded that cannabinoids were only effective against acute cluster headaches if a person had experienced migraine attacks as a child.

Research on other forms of cannabis may provide additional hope for those seeking migraine pain relief.

Studies on medical marijuana

In 2016, Pharmacotherapy published a study on the use of medical marijuana for migraine. Researchers found that of the 48 people surveyed, 39.7 percent reported fewer migraine attacks overall.

Drowsiness was the biggest complaint, while others had difficulty figuring out the right dose. People who used edible marijuana, as opposed to inhaling it or using other forms, experienced the most side effects.

A 2018 study looked at 2,032 people with migraine, headache, arthritis, or chronic pain as a primary symptom or illness. Most participants were able to replace their prescription medications — typically opioids or opiates — with cannabis.

All subgroups preferred hybrid strains of cannabis. People in the migraine and headache subgroups preferred OG Shark, a hybrid strain with high levels of THC and low levels of CBD.

Study on nabilone

A 2012 Italian study explored the effects of nabilone, a synthetic form of THC, on headache disorders. Twenty-six people who experienced medication overuse headaches began by taking oral doses of either .50 mg a day of nabilone or 400 mg a day of ibuprofen.

After taking one drug for eight weeks, the study participants went without medication for one week. Then they switched to the other drug for the final eight weeks.

Both drugs proved to be effective. However, at the end of the study, participants reported more improvements and better quality of life when taking nabilone.

Using nabilone resulted in less intense pain as well as lowered drug dependence. Neither drug had a significant impact on the frequency of migraine attacks, which the researchers attributed to the short duration of the study.

CBD works by interacting with the body’s cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). Though the mechanisms aren’t fully understood, the receptors can affect the immune system.

For example, CBD may prevent the body from metabolizing anandamide. The compound anandamide is associated with pain regulation. Maintaining high levels of anandamide in your bloodstream may reduce your feelings of pain.

CBD is also thought to limit inflammation within the body, which may also help reduce pain and other immune-system responses.

More research is needed to further understand how CBD may affect the body.

Although lawmakers in the United States are currently debating the merits of cannabis and related products, the plant’s medicinal uses aren’t a new discovery.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), cannabis has been used in alternative medicine for over 3,000 years. Some of these uses include the management of:

CBD oil can be:

  • vaped
  • ingested
  • applied topically

Oral CBD is less likely to cause side effects than vaping, so some beginners may want to start there. You can:

Vaping CBD oil may be beneficial if you’re experiencing a severe migraine at home and you don’t have to leave and go elsewhere.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) explains that the inhalation process delivers the compounds to your bloodstream much quicker than other methods.

Currently, there aren’t any formal guidelines for proper dosing for a migraine attack. Work with your doctor to determine a proper dosage.

If you’re new to CBD oil, you should start with the smallest dosage possible. You can gradually work your way up to the full recommended dose. This will allow your body to get used to the oil and reduce your risk of side effects.

Overall, studies show that the side effects of CBD and CBD oil are minimal. This is one of the main reasons why people are opting out of over-the-counter (OTC) or addictive prescription pain medications.

Still, fatigue, drowsiness, and upset stomach are possible, as well as changes in appetite and weight. Liver toxicity has also been observed in mice who’ve been injected with extremely large doses of CBD-rich cannabis extract.

Your risk for side effects may depend on the way you use the CBD oil. For example, vaping may cause lung irritation. This can lead to:

If you have asthma or another type of lung disease, your doctor may advise against vaping CBD oil.

If you’re unsure about the potential side effects or how your body might handle them, talk with your doctor.

If you’re also taking other medications or dietary supplements, be mindful of drug interactions. CBD may interact with a variety of drugs, including:

Be extra careful if you take a medication or supplement that interacts with grapefruit. CBD and grapefruit both interact with enzymes — such as cytochromes P450 (CYPs) — that are important for drug metabolism.

CBD oils are made from cannabis, but they don’t always contain THC. THC is the cannabinoid that makes users feel “high” or “stoned” when smoking cannabis.

Two types of CBD strains are widely available on the market:

  • dominant
  • rich

The CBD-dominant strain has little to no THC, while the CBD-rich strain contains both cannabinoids.

CBD without THC doesn’t have psychoactive properties. Even if you select a combination product, the CBD often counteracts the effects of THC, according to the nonprofit Project CBD. This is one of the many reasons you might select CBD oil over medical marijuana.

Is CBD Legal? Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Check your state's laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

Due to the psychoactive components of traditional marijuana, cannabis remains outlawed in some parts of the United States.

However, a growing number of states have voted to approve cannabis for medical use only. Others have legalized cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use.

If you live in a state where marijuana is legal for both medicinal and recreational use, you should have access to CBD oil, too.

However, if your state has legalized cannabis for medicinal use only, you’ll need to apply for a marijuana card through your doctor before purchasing CBD products. This license is required for the consumption of all forms of cannabis, including CBD.

In some states, all forms of cannabis are illegal. Federally, cannabis is still classified as a dangerous and illicit drug.

It’s important to be aware of the laws in your state and any other states you may visit. If cannabis-related products are illegal — or if they require a medical license that you don’t have — you may be subject to a penalty for possession.

More research is needed before CBD oil can become a conventional treatment option for migraine, but it’s worth talking to your doctor if you’re interested. They can advise you on the proper dosage as well as any legal requirements.

If you decide to try CBD oil, treat it like you would any other treatment option for migraine. It may take some time to work, and you may need to adjust your dosage to better suit your needs.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.