Can marijuana help treat or prevent migraines? WebMD explores how pot works for headache pain and the possible side effects. Migraine pain can be debilitating. If you're looking for alternative methods of migraine relief, CBD may be something to consider.
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.”
CBD For Migraines: Benefits, Risks And More
Dr. Elliot Dinetz is certified in Family Medicine & Functional Medicine where he understood early on that this is the true path for optimal health.
Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Migraine?
- The Science Behind CBD and Migraine Relief
- Potential Risks of Using CBD for Migraine Relief
- Should You Use CBD for Migraines?
- Talk to Your Doctor
Migraines—a recurring type of headache that can cause severe pain and other debilitating symptoms, such as increased sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting and pain when sneezing or coughing—can make managing daily responsibilities challenging. While there are several known migraine treatments, including medications, injections, supplements and acupuncture, researchers are taking a closer look at cannabidiol (CBD) as an alternative treatment option.
Read on to learn more about CBD use for migraines, its potential benefits, its risks and how it might help.
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What Is a Migraine?
Migraines are a type of headache that cause moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain, often on one side of the head. Pain may also occur on both sides of the head, in the front or back, in or around the eyes, or behind the cheeks.
Common symptoms of migraines include:
- Moderate to severe head pain that causes a throbbing or pounding sensation
- Head pain that gets worse with movement
- Sensitivity to light, noise and smells
“A migraine is more than a bad headache, and the cause of migraines is complicated and still yet to be fully understood,” says Jessica Cho, M.D., an integrative medicine physician and internist at Wellness at Century City in Los Angeles. Migraines happen when specific nerves in a person’s blood vessels send pain signals to the brain, triggering the release of painful inflammatory substances, adds Dr. Cho.
Migraines are considered a neurological disorder and affect roughly 15% of the population, according to research in the Journal of Headache and Pain  Andreou AP, Edvinsson L. Mechanisms of migraine as a chronic evolutive condition. Journal of Headache and Pain. 2019;20(117). . Due to the list of symptoms that render people unable to complete routine activities, Dr. Cho says migraines are the sixth most disabling disease in the world.
Research shows migraines can be genetic, though certain factors and substances can trigger the condition, including:
- Hormonal changes in women
- Strong smells
- Loud noises
- Bright or flashing lights
- Certain medications
- Overuse of medications
- Too much physical activity
- Sudden weather changes
- Too much or not enough sleep
- Tobacco use
- Caffeine use or withdrawal
- Consumption of alcohol, monosodium glutamate (MSG), chocolate, aged cheeses, fermented foods, yeast and/or processed meats
The Science Behind CBD and Migraine Relief
CBD is one of the most well-known compounds in hemp and cannabis sativa plants. While delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes an intoxicatingly psychoactive high, CBD alone does not.
Research links cannabis to headache and migraine relief; one 2021 literature review reports that a combination of CBD and THC had encouraging short- and long-term outcomes for people suffering from migraines  Poudel S, Quinonez J, Choudhari J, et al. Medical Cannabis, Headaches, and Migraines: A Review of the Current Literature. Cureus. 2021;13(8):e17407. .
When examining CBD alone, studies show the cannabinoid can be an effective treatment option for chronic pain. One survey conducted by Axon Relief—a company developing products for migraine relief—found CBD may lead to a reduction in migraine days and help decrease the impact of migraines  Survey Shows CBD Has Positive Impact on Migraines. Cision PR Newswire. Accessed 4/21/2022. . While further research is needed, the American Migraine Foundation reports that CBD oil may be a viable topical solution for neck and joint pain often associated with migraines.
Beyond pain relief, CBD may help reduce nausea and inflammation often associated with migraines, says Chantel Strachan, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician and headache specialist at ColumbiaDoctors and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York.
How CBD Works
When it comes to CBD and migraines, the benefits look increasingly optimistic. “There is promising scientific research that CBD may be effective in easing migraine symptoms through CBD’s interaction with the body’s endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS)” says Michael Lewis, M.D., president and founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute and medical advisor at CV Sciences, Inc., a company researching and developing CBD products.
Cannabinoids, including CBD, interact with the ECS—a neuromodulatory system that plays a role in central nervous system development and the body’s response to both endogenous and environmental threats—through receptors found throughout the body. “Cannabinoid interaction with these receptors causes cells to reduce inflammation, relieve pain or just make us feel good,” says Dr. Lewis. What’s more, clinical evidence shows people with chronic migraines (at least 15 headache days per month) have lower levels of endocannabinoids—neurotransmitters that naturally exist within the body and bind to cannabinoid receptors—which may help explain how CBD may benefit people with migraines.