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CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
Both come from cannabis, but THC is psychoactive and CBD is not
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Cannabis contains over 113 different chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two types of chemical compounds derived from cannabis. In recent years, interest has grown in the potential health effects and benefits of cannabis. Much of this interest has centered on these two cannabinoids.
This interest will likely grow as cannabis and marijuana products become legal in more states. A number of different products have emerged that contain CBD, THC, or both that are designed to alleviate ailments such as stress, anxiety, and insomnia. To understand these products’ side effects and potential benefits, it is important to first understand the differences between CBD and THC.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol, usually referred to as CBD, is the second most prevalent chemical compound found in cannabis. First discovered during the 1940s, CBD has recently become more popular as a natural treatment for a range of conditions. It can be derived from hemp or from marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD still contains trace amounts of THC, while marijuana-derived CBD may contain more.
What Is THC?
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC activates the brain’s reward system by signaling the release of the brain chemical dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood and pleasure. By triggering a higher-than-normal release of dopamine, THC causes people to experience feelings of euphoria. THC is often administered by smoking marijuana, but it can also be found as an ingredient in capsules, edibles, and oils.
CBD vs. THC: Key Differences
THC and CBD have an effect on the endocannabinoid system, a system that plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis. Researchers are still working to understand the ins and outs of this complex system, but they do know that it is associated with processes including memory, appetite, sleep, mood, and fertility.
While THC and CBD share similarities, there are some key differences between the two compounds.
Psychoactive (produces a high)
Sourced from marijuana
Non-psychoactive (does not produce a high)
Typically sourced from hemp
CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive Properties
CBD and THC affect different receptors in the brain. Because of this, CBD typically does not have psychoactive effects—in other words, it won’t cause you to get high.
THC, on the other hand, does have psychoactive effects. It is the compound that produces the high that people associate with marijuana.
CBD vs. THC: Chemical Structure
Both CBD and THC have a chemical structure that is similar to the body’s natural endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that act in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that relay signals between nerve cells in the body. They play an important role in a wide range of functions including sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and the immune system.
CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, but there are differences in how these molecules are arranged that are responsible for the differing effects they have. By mimicking endocannabinoids, they bind with receptors and cause different effects in the body.
CBD vs. THC: Sources
While CBD can come from either hemp or marijuana, it is often derived from hemp in order to avoid the addition of larger amounts of THC. THC, on the other hand, is derived from marijuana.
CBD that comes from marijuana may contain more THC, which may not be ideal for people who are trying to avoid THC. Some CBD products that are produced from cannabis, for example, may contain more THC than the label suggests.
CBD vs. THC: Potential Benefits
While research on the potential health benefits of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids is still in the early stages, there is evidence that these substances may be helpful for conditions including:
- Symptoms of HIV/AIDS
- Opioid dependence
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Sleep difficulties
- Movement disorders
While CBD and THC often have similar effects and are often used to treat many of the same ailments, there are some differences.
CBD is often used to alleviate symptoms associated with:
THC, which may be administered as medical marijuana, may be used to alleviate symptoms of a number of conditions. It may be helpful for conditions such as:
- Nausea; it may help alleviate nausea caused by cancer treatment
- Pain associated with conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches
- Poor appetite; including appetite problems caused by cancer treatment
CBD vs. THC for Pain Relief
Both CBD and THC can both be beneficial for pain relief. Because THC has psychoactive effects, it may produce more immediate pain relief. However, CBD can help reduce inflammation, which is useful for long-term effectiveness. Some evidence suggests that taking both CBD and THC may provide the greatest pain relief. In one study, people who took a combination of CBD and THC experienced greater pain relief than those who took THC alone.
While cannabis itself has not been FDA approved to treat any condition, there are a few drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that contain CBD or THC.
- Epidiolex contains CBD and has been approved to treat seizures associated with two severe types of epilepsy—Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
- Marinol and Syndros are drugs that contain dronabinol, a synthetic THC. These drugs are used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy during cancer treatment.
- Cesamet contains nabilone, a synthetic substance that is similar to THC. This drug is used to treat weight loss and appetite problems associated with chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS.
CBD vs. THC: Side Effects
Some research suggests that CBD and THC are generally safe and result in few side effects.
However, while these substances appear safe, that does not necessarily mean that you won’t experience some unwanted effects. Some adverse effects that have been reported include:
- Changes in mood and appetite
- Feelings of anxiety or other mood changes
- Nausea and dizziness
THC use may also result in unpleasant side effects such as increased heart rate, dry mouth, and memory loss.
Marijuana itself can have a number of short-term and long-term adverse effects, including impaired short-term memory, altered judgment, and impaired coordination. Research also suggests that marijuana can alter brain development and may lead to cognitive impairment.
NIDA also notes that THC alters how the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex function. These areas of the brain are important in the formation of new memories and the ability to shift attention from one thing to the next. This not only affects a person’s ability to learn and form new memories, but it also makes it difficult for people to perform difficult tasks.
Legality of CBD and THC
When choosing CBD or THC products, it is also important to consider their legality. Both marijuana and THC are included in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which means that they are not legal under federal law.
As of July 2020, 33 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted policies allowing medical marijuana and products containing THC to be prescribed by a doctor. Some states also allow recreational use of marijuana and THC-containing products.
Although CBD in certain forms is legal in most states, the specifics of the legality of any THC or CBD product can vary from one state to the next. Several states have also approved the use of marijuana and THC for recreational purposes.
Because the laws regarding the use of cannabis and cannabis products are rapidly changing, you should always check your state’s laws before using products containing CBD or THC.
How to Take CBD and THC
Both THC and CBD can be consumed in a number of different forms. THC may be consumed as marijuana by smoking, but a number of other cannabis products are also available including:
- Vape products
- Edibles including gummies and chocolates
- Beverages containing marijuana oil
Like THC, CBD can also be consumed in a number of different forms. CBD oils can be formulated for vaping, although there have been recent concerns about the health dangers posed by vaping.
It can also be added to lotions and salves to apply to skin. It is important to note that the effects of these topical products will be localized since they are not being ingested.
CBD can also be taken orally as a tincture, oil, capsule, or spray. Edible CBD products are also popular and include gummies, candies, and beverages.
When choosing CBD products, it is also important to consider its formulation. Isolate products contain only CBD. Broad-spectrum products contain other cannabinoids with the exception of THC, while full-spectrum CBD products contain CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids.
Which One Should You Take?
The product you choose may depend on the effects you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to reduce stress or sleep better, for example, CBD may provide benefits without the negative side effects associated with THC. THC might be a better choice for symptoms or conditions for which the substance has demonstrated benefits, such as tremors or poor appetite.
The Entourage Effect
Some research suggests that the potential therapeutic effects of THC and CBD tend to be greater when the two cannabinoids are taken together at the same time. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect.
Taking CBD along with THC has also been shown to help reduce some of the unwanted effects that THC may have. For example, one study suggests that CBD may potentially reduce some of the negative cognitive effects of regular cannabis use.
For example, people who use cannabis, particularly when it has high THC levels, may have a greater risk of experiencing psychiatric symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety, and psychosis. Studies have found, however, that CBD may help mitigate these effects.
One study found that CBD helped block some of the potential psychiatric effects of THC. The authors of the study suggest that such findings have important implications for the use of cannabis products. People who are prone to unwanted side effects, for example, may be able to still gain the potential health benefits by sticking to products that are low in THC and higher in CBD content.
It is also important to remember that CBD and THC work in a number of different areas of the brain, and researchers do not yet fully understand the effects that these cannabinoids have, either alone or in conjunction with one another.
Some evidence suggests that the combined effects of CBD and THC may be dependent on dose. A 2019 study, for example, found that low doses of CBD actually played a role in amplifying the psychoactive effects of THC, while high doses of CBD reduced THC’s effects.
Drug Testing CBD or THC
Because THC is the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, it can be detected on most standard drug tests. CBD may be detectable as well, but many drug tests are not designed to look for cannabidiol.
However, many CBD products do contain trace amounts of THC. While these amounts are small, they may still be detectable if you are consuming large quantities of CBD or if the products you are using contain more THC than the packaging label claims.
Research has found, for example, that as many as 70% of CBD products are mislabeled and contain significantly more THC than labels suggest. Because of the lack of regulation of these products, it is difficult to know exactly how much THC you are actually getting.
There is no way to tell between THC and CBD based on appearance, smell, taste, or texture. Purchasing products from reputable manufacturers and retailers may help ensure that you are getting the type of product you want.
Both THC and CBD are stored in body fat, which means that both can potentially be detected on drug tests for some time after you have stopped using them.
Before You Take CBD or THC
THC and CBD may also have an effect on some health conditions and can interact with certain medications, so you should always use caution before taking these products. These substances might impact how medications are metabolized by your body. They can also heighten feelings of anxiety in some cases.
Before choosing a THC or CBD product, it is important to check your state laws to ensure that these products are legal where you live. Federal law mandates that hemp-derived CBD products should contain less than 0.3% THC, but even those trace amounts are still illegal in some states.
A Word From Verywell
Both THC and CBD may have a number of benefits, but you should always talk to your doctor first before you try any products containing these cannabinoids. Both CBD and THC hold promise for alleviating symptoms and even treating some medical and mental health conditions, but research in this area is still relatively new and further investigation is needed.
Verywell Mind 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.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Cannabis (marijuana) and cannabinoids: what you need to know.
Perry D, Ton J, Allan GM. Evidence for THC versus CBD in cannabinoids. Can Fam Physician. 2018;64(7):519. PMID: 30002029; PMCID: PMC6042662.
Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SR. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219-2227. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1402309
Morgan CJ, Schafer G, Freeman TP, Curran HV. Impact of cannabidiol on the acute memory and psychotomimetic effects of smoked cannabis: naturalistic study: naturalistic study [corrected] [published correction appears in Br J Psychiatry. 2010 Nov;197:416]. Br J Psychiatry. 2010;197(4):285-290. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.110.077503
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
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CBD Oil for Migraines: How to Apply CBD Oil for Headaches
If you suffer from migraines, there are two things that probably irritate you the most.
First — the debilitating migraine headache itself.
Second — your friends use the term “migraines” to talk about any headache they experience.
Seriously, if you’ve ever had a migraine attack, you’ll never compare it to a regular headache, even if you think it’s on the verge of being manageable. Migraines can prevent you from performing even the simplest tasks.
Migraines are a serious problem among women; 18% of women in the US suffer from regular migraines compared to 6% of men. And yet, despite the striking prevalence, we know very little about the cause of this condition and how to fight it.
After failing with conventional treatment methods, many people desperately turn to natural resources for help — such as CBD oil.
CBD oil may relieve pain and reduce inflammation, but recent research shows it’s also a potential anti-migraine agent.
In this article, I will highlight the top 5 CBD oil brands that may help you relieve migraine headaches and perhaps even prevent them from happening.
Of course, I’ll also take you on a journey through the science behind CBD and migraines, so let’s get started.
Top 10 Best CBD Oil for Migraines (Brand Recommendations 2022)
Buying CBD oil online is a hard nut to crack.
Most people don’t have the time to read about extraction methods, certificates of analysis, hemp source, and all the other factors that decide about the quality of CBD oil.
Some people just want straight answers — “that brand is awesome because…”
And that’s exactly where you’ll get your answers. Below I show you my top 5 brand recommendations for CBD oil and migraines.
1. Royal CBD (Best Migraine Reliever)
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- Their products are available as full-spectrum or “zero-THC”
- Up to 83.3 mg of CBD per mL (2500mg bottle)
- Every batch of product has been tested by independent labs
- Their CBD is sourced from American-grown hemp
- The natural flavor tastes great
- The price is slightly higher than average (although this is well justified)
What I Like About Royal CBD:
Royal CBD is a premium CBD brand that offers a range of high-quality CBD products. They like to keep it simple; their assortment consists only of CBD oil, capsules, and gummies.
I’ve been using their 1000mg CBD oil for quite a while now, and I must say I’m excited about how it works for my migraine headaches. Most of the time, when I have a migraine attack, I’m so debilitated that I can’t even move my finger, so taking CBD capsules or chewing on gummies is not an option.
With the oil, the experience is different because all I have to do is put a few drops under my tongue and wait for them to get absorbed while I’m lying on the couch and trying not to explode.
This full-spectrum CBD oil is pretty strong, so I’d recommend the 1000mg option to those with really severe migraine symptoms. At a lower cost, you can try their 250mg and 500mg bottles.
2. Gold Bee (Best Organic CBD Oil)
- Unique product selection
- Gold Bee uses non-GMO, Colorado-grown hemp
- The oil contains full-spectrum CBD
- The company’s products are extracted with CO2
- You’re getting up to 2400 mg of CBD per bottle
- The oil is sweetened with organic honey
- Third-party lab tested for potency and purity
- No high-strength oils
- Not available in-store
What I Like About Gold Bee:
Gold Bee is a true maverick when it comes to CBD extracts. This California-based brand offers a unique selection of products, including full-spectrum CBD oil that is sweetened with organic honey and CBD-infused honey sticks for the flavor chasers. The entire product line up is sourced from organic hemp, extracted with CO2, and third-party lab tested for potency and purity.
I’ve been taking the 1200 mg kiwi flavor for prevention and to ease the migraine pain once it has kicked in. I’ve noticed similar results to what I’ve been getting with some more potent oils from competitor brands, which already tells much about the oil’s quality. The kiwi flavor also does a great job in masking the earthy aftertaste of full-spectrum CBD, and most importantly, both flavorings and the sweetener are all-natural.
Gold Bee offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for its products, allowing customers to return their products for a full refund if they decide they are not satisfied with the results; it’s a great sign of the brand’s confidence about their quality.
3. CBDPure (Runner Up)
- Sourced from American-grown hemp
- Tested for potency and purity in 3rd-party laboratories
- Contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes
- You can return the product within 90 days for a full refund if you’re not satisfied with the product.
- Narrow product range
- Low potency
What I Like About CBDPure CBD Oil:
CBDPure is one of the most honest companies I’ve ever encountered. They give you a nice insight into each production stage of their CBD oils and prove their label claims with certificates of analysis from independent laboratories.
When it comes to migraines, I would use CBDPure oil as a preventative supplement to ease mild to moderate headaches, ones that aren’t caused by migraines.
These guys are keepers for those CBD users buying CBD on a budget, and if you end up not satisfied with the purchase, you can return the product within 90 days for a full refund.
4. Hemp Bombs
- They have a diverse product range made from CBD isolates
- Each batch is subject to third-party lab testing
- Their products offer the highest dose of CBD per serving
- The extracts used by Hemp Bombs are of lower quality than Royal CBD
- CBD isolate doesn’t induce the entourage effect because it lacks other cannabinoids
What I Like About Hemp Bombs:
Hemp Bombs has one of the most diverse product ranges in the entire industry. They sell oils, topicals, edibles, vape oils, pet treats, CBD shots, and some really crazy products like CBD-infused beard lotions.
While the quality of their extracts is one class lower than the one offered by brands like Royal CBD, HempBombs makes great products for those who can’t use full-spectrum extracts for a variety of reasons (e.g., pregnancy or the risk of testing false positive on drug screening).
Because these products are made from 99.9% pure isolate, you need higher doses to achieve relief than with full-spectrum CBD oil. As such, I encourage you to opt for their higher potencies, as can have a better effect on you and turn out more cost-efficient in the long run.
- Their products are available as full-spectrum CBD or pure CBD oil (Zero THC)
- Each batch of product is tested for potency and purity in a 3rd-party laboratory
- Five strengths to choose from
- Great price for the value
- Their hemp isn’t organic
- Their website doesn’t provide the best User Experience
What I Like About CBDistillery:
Here’s my top 3rd pick. There are two reasons why I decided not to give this brand a higher note — the way CBDistillery farms their hemp (the plants aren’t organic) and how their website gives me a heart attack every time I come back to see what’s new in their store.
On a positive note, I’d like to stress how much I love the fact they cater to every type of CBD user out there. CBDistillery sells their extracts as either “full-spectrum” or “pure oil.” On top of that, they ensure an outstanding potency range, starting at 250mg up to 5000mg of CBD per bottle.
6. NuLeaf Naturals
- Their CBD comes from domestic hemp
- NuLeaf obtains its extracts using a mix of subcritical and supercritical CO2
- Each batch is lab-tested for potency and contaminants
- Sold as full-spectrum extracts
- Up to 4850mg of CBD per bottle
- Narrow product range
- More expensive than the other companies
What I Like About NuLeaf Naturals:
Another pioneer (next to CBDistillery), NuLeaf naturals sells full-spectrum CBD oil for humans and dogs.
The reason why I decided to keep them in this ranking is the fantastic choice of bottle sizes this brand offers — from 5mL to 100mL.
The potency in those sizes are the same, so your choice will depend on how frequently you use CBD oil and how long you need to supply yourself for.
These are full-spectrum extracts, so you gain the benefit of the entourage effect. However, for some reason, these oils are priced higher than all the brands in this ranking. That’s weird because there’s no extra value in their products — the hemp isn’t organic, and the formula is rather typical of most CBD oils.
7. Charlotte’s Web
|Total CBD Content||200 – 1800 mg|
|Available Flavors||Mint Chocolate, Lemon Twist, Orange Blossom, Olive Oil|
|Potency||7 – 60 mg/mL|
About Charlotte’s Web:
Charlotte’s Web is one of the companies that blazed the trail for the CBD market as we know it today. Launched by the Stanley Brothers, the company has made big headlines in the mainstream media when they helped now late Charlotte Figi with her treatment-resistant epilepsy. Although the brand has recently received a warning letter from the FDA due to their health claims, they still have a reputation of a solid manufacturer.
The Charlotte’s Web CBD oil is available in 4 concentrations: 200 mg, 500 mg, 1500 mg, and 1800 mg of CBD per bottle. The strongest version comes with 60 mg of full-spectrum CBD in every milliliter. You can choose between two bottle sizes — 30 mL and 100 mL — and four flavor options, including Olive Oil, Mint Chocolate, Lemon Twist, and Orange Blossom.
What could Charlotte’s Web do better?
Well, for starters, they could switch from ethanol extraction to CO2 extraction because such products have a better chemical profile and are more efficient in terms of production. Secondly, and more importantly, I’d like to see these CBD oils suspended in MCT oil because suspension in olive oil makes them taste a bit too bitter for my palate — even in the flavored variants.
- One of the most reputable brands on the market
- Full-spectrum CBD
- Delicious flavored versions
- Up to 1800 mg of CBD per bottle
- Available in two sizes: 30 mL and 100 mL
- Third-party tested for potency and purity
- Non-organic hemp
- Ethanol extraction
- Suspension in olive oil (bitter taste)
- The company received a warning letter from the FDA in the past due to inappropriate health claims
|Total CBD Content||300 – 7500 mg|
|Available Flavors||Natural, Berry, Orange, Mint|
|Potency||10 – 250 mg/mL|
cbdMD is another well-known brand that sells an array of CBD extracts, including tinctures, capsules, gummies, sleep aids, topicals, bath bombs, and pet products.
The company offers a broad range of CBD oils, with up to 7500 mg of CBD per bottle. The strongest version packs a healthy dose of 200 mg of broad-spectrum CBD suspended in MCT oil for better absorption and a smoother flavor. These oils are available in three flavored options: Berry, Orange, and Mint.
The lack of the trace amounts of THC makes cbdMD products suitable for younger users, athletes, and people who are regularly tested for THC at work. But on the other hand, broad-spectrum CBD doesn’t evoke the full entourage effect. The effects of CBD aren’t linear on the dose-response curve, so higher concentrations may not translate into better results in this case.
CbdMD also has high transparency standards. All of their products are tested by a third-party laboratory; the batch-specific certificates of analysis are available on the cbdMD’s website.
cbdMD is another popular manufacturer that offers a wide range of CBD extracts, from tinctures to cummies to capsules, bath bombs, topicals, sleep aids, and pet products.
- US-grown, non-GMO hemp
- CO2 extraction
- Up to 7500 mg of CBD per bottle
- Batch-specific certificates of analysis
- Limited entourage effect due to the lack of THC
- Most people don’t need such high doses of CBD in their routine
|Total CBD Content||500 – 3000 mg|
|Available Flavors||Natural, Citrus, Mint Chocolate|
|Potency||16 – 100 mg/mL|
Medterra is a small artisan brand rooted in California. The company specializes in premium CBD oils in various cannabinoid spectra, including full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate. These products contain from 500 mg to 3000 mg of CBD per bottle, which is a regular range for CBD companies. Aside from the unflavored version, you can choose from two flavored options: Citrus and Chocolate.
The company prides itself on making real full-spectrum CBD, with 2 mg of THC in each bottle. However, the problem with these extracts is that they’re not legal in all 50 states. So, if you want to purchase their products legally, your options are limited to broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate. On the other hand, these products contain upwards of 1000 mg of CBD, which may appeal to those who benefit from higher doses in their routine.
Medterra’s products are tested in a n independent laboratory for their CBD content and safety.
- Premium-grade CBD oils
- Up to 3000 mg of CBD per bottle
- Available as full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, and isolates
- Lab tested for potency and purity
- The “real” full-spectrum CBD oil isn’t available in all states
- Some of the lab reports indicate higher CBD levels than stated on the bottle
- No discounts for returning customers
10. Joy Organics
|Total CBD Content||450 – 900 mg|
|Available Flavors||Tranquil Mint, Fresh Lime, Summer Lemon|
|Potency||15 – 30 mg/mL|
About Joy Organics:
Joy Organics is one of the most well-known brands in the CBD space. The company was founded by a woman named Joy Smith, who has been using hemp extracts to manage her problems with pain and sleep. After reaping the benefits of CBD herself, she has decided to share her passion for CBD oils with other people seeking natural and safe alternatives to conventional treatments.
The company offers a range of broad-spectrum CBD oils from certified organic hemp. They have a lot of positive reviews all over the internet; they also haven’t received any warning letter from the FDA regarding health claims or other ‘unfair’ practices.
Joy Organics focuses on broad-spectrum CBD formulations in a low potency range — from 450 to 900 mg of CBD per bottle. The stronger version features 30 mg of CBD per milliliter, which is a standard dose among daily users who use this product as a means of supplementation. These are one of the tastiest CBD oils I’ve tried to date; you can choose from three refreshing flavors: Fresh Lime, Tranquil Mint, and Summer Lemon.
In 2018, one of the company’s flavored CBD oils was found to be contaminated with a fungicide that is commonly sprayed on citrus fruits. Fortunately, Joy Organics has quickly fixed the problem by removing the flawed product batch and implementing new third-party testing systems to make sure such mistakes won’t happen again.
- Non-GMO, US-grown hemp
- Supercritical CO2 extraction
- Broad-spectrum CBD
- Delicious flavors
- A bit expensive
- No high-strength oils
What Are Migraines?
Migraines are severe headaches that can last for anywhere between 4–72 hours. They are perceived as a throbbing sensation usually affecting one side of the head.
Most often, it feels as if someone was trying to squeeze your skull while pounding it with a hammer at the same time.
Nothing enjoyable, to say the least.
Aside from the unbearable pain, migraines can also trigger other symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraine headaches affect more than 38 million people within the US alone. Women are three times as likely to suffer from migraines as men.
Migraines come in two distinct forms: with or without aura.
The vast majority of people (70–90%) experience migraines without aura. This type lasts between 4–72 hours and is accompanied by pulsating pain on one side of the head.
Migraine with aura is another common type that derives from neurological symptoms triggered by the headache. These symptoms include tunnel vision, flashing lights, and colored spots in the eyes, as well as blind spots in the field of vision.
Migraines can be both acute and chronic; chronic migraine lasts even 15 days in a month.
Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact cause of migraine headaches, but they believe them to result from alterations of chemicals, nerves, and blood vessels in the brain.
Common Migraine Treatment Options
If your migraines aren’t severe and result mostly from environmental triggers, you can learn to avoid them and thus reduce their frequency.
Consider using the following techniques:
- Stress management (behavioral therapy)
- Taking care of your sleep quality
- Avoiding allergens and bright lights
When these methods fail to deliver expected results, your physician will recommend one of the conventional treatment options.
Acknowledged migraine treatments include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers like acetaminophen
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen or aspirin)
- A combination of medicines that mix pain relievers and caffeine
- Anti-migraine prescription drugs, such as antidepressants, seizure medications, and beta-blockers
- Botox treatment
No treatment works for everyone, but some of these methods can reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and dampen the intensity once they start.
However, when absolutely none of the above methods relieves you from migraines, CBD oil may be your last hope.
Does CBD Help with Migraines?
CBD stands for cannabidiol and is one of the 400+ compounds found in the cannabis plant. It’s the most abundant cannabinoid along with THC, but unlike THC, it has no psychoactive properties, meaning it won’t get you high.
CBD is a modulator to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It acts on the two sets of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) to help the ECS maintain the chemical balance in the body and brain.
In essence, CBD signals these receptors to produce more of the body’s own cannabinoids and makes them more available for the body by blocking the enzyme responsible for their breakdown.
Studies have shown that CBD can work as a painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotectant, hence the impressive number of its health benefits.
But how could CBD help with migraines? To answer that question, we need to examine the relationship between CBD and the endocannabinoid system closely.
Why Would CBD Oil Work for Migraines?
Although the research in this area is still in its infancy — mainly due to the federal restrictions on cannabis and its molecules until recently — there are some indications that CBD may assist migraine attacks or intense headaches.
Migraines & the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system has been proposed as a significant factor when it comes to migraines and its management through CBD administration.
According to a study published in the Journal Experimental Neurology, this system may be centrally and peripherally engaged in pain signaling. This may be caused by the endocannabinoids’ ability to inhibit the release of neurotransmitters responsible for perceiving pain via interaction with the CB1 receptor in the brain.
The authors of the paper suggest that the endocannabinoid system is where migraines may have their roots, and that CBD could serve as a promising tool for alleviating the physiological and inflammatory aspects of pain that are involved in migraine headaches.
CBD, Anandamide, and Migraines
If this theory proves accurate, then the lack of endocannabinoids within the ECS may just as well be a contributor to migraines. This condition, which is officially described as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, could be the cause of migraine headaches in many people.
Anandamide (or AEA), one of several endocannabinoids produced by the human body, has the ability to both increase and decrease the activity of serotonin receptors. A paper from Neurology Letters suggests that this feature can have therapeutic applications within the domain of migraines. Anandamide has also been shown to be tonically active within the gray matter of the brain, which is responsible for migraine generation.
Another research published in the Journal of Headache and Pain has investigated the role of AEA administration with animal models. The study confirmed that a compromised endocannabinoid system might cause the development of migraine attacks. The authors of the paper suggest that modulation of CB1 and CB2 receptors can be useful in the treatment of migraines.
CBD can manipulate AEA levels within the body and maintain its adequate concentrations in the brain, hence its potential to relieve migraine pain.
How to Use CBD Oil for Migraines?
There are several ways to use CBD oil for migraines. Each of the methods I describe in this section provides a slightly different type and duration of effects.
You can inhale CBD oil or concentrates for migraine relief. The healthiest and easiest method of inhaling CBD is vaporization, which means heating the CBD vape oil in a device called a vaporizer.
Vaporization only heats the material to the point where it releases CBD-rich vapor. You then inhale through the vaporizer’s mouthpiece.
Since there’s no combustion, vaping CBD oil doesn’t deliver harmful substances to your system.
But most importantly, vaporization has the highest bioavailability of all consumption methods. In other words, vaped CBD delivers more active substances than sublingual or oral CBD.
Research has shown that the bioavailability of vaporized cannabidiol ranges between 35–56%, which is about 1.5 times as much as sublingual products and 10–14 times as much as edibles.
In its most common form, CBD is applied sublingually. Once you measure out the necessary amount of CBD oil with a dropper, you squeeze the dose under your tongue and wait until it gets absorbed through a special membrane.
From there, CBD travels straight to the bloodstream. This helps the user to avoid the “first-pass effect” because cannabidiol doesn’t have to be processed by the liver. Usually, the ad hoc effects become noticeable after 20–30 minutes.
Sublingual CBD is a good option to consider for those migraine sufferers who want to steer clear of additives like propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, which are present in CBD vape oils.
Although CBD topicals offer the lowest bioavailability, they can be a viable option for fighting localized pain. Not only that, but topical products also soothe the nerves in your head that release Calcitonin Gene-related Peptide (CGRP) — a peptide that has been scientifically proven to trigger migraine headaches.
It turns out that chronic migraine sufferers have high levels of CGRP and low levels of endocannabinoids. According to a study published in the European Journal of Pain, topical CBD can reduce CGRP, inflammation, swelling, and pain in animal arthritis.
Potential Risks & Side Effects
Just as any health supplement, CBD oil can cause some side effects. However, these side effects are relatively minor and don’t put your health or life in danger — as long as you buy high-quality CBD oil from a trusted manufacturer.
That’s why people use it so eagerly.
The only side effects that may appear when you take too much CBD oil is dry mouth, lowered blood pressure, and dizziness. Rare cases include examples of diarrhea after consuming extremely high doses of CBD.
CBD blocks the enzyme in the liver that is responsible for processing drugs; given this, taking CBD oil along with many medicines may lead to increasing the concentration of these drugs in your system and cause “second-hand” side effects (not related to using CBD on its own).
That being said, it’s important that you talk to your doctor prior to buying CBD oil if you take any other medications it could potentially interact with.
Things to Do Before You Decide to Buy CBD Oil from Any Company
Buying CBD oil is an investment in your well-being, but as with any investment, you shouldn’t act on the spur of the moment.
When browsing through different brands and products, make sure you don’t miss out on any of the following points:
Ask for Lab Reports from 3rd-Party Testing
Lab analysis will tell you everything about CBD oil, from its CBD potency to the cannabinoid profile and terpenes to potential pollutants.
Every company has the option to submit a sample of their product to a third-party laboratory for examination. If there are any inconsistencies in the potency, or the product turns out contaminated, the lab test will detect it.
Therefore, if a company isn’t honest about how they test their CBD oil and they don’t show lab reports anywhere on their website — even on request — that’s an instant red light.
Choose the Right Potency
The potency of CBD oil is measured in milligrams of CBD per one milliliter of the liquid. Lower potencies are designed rather for preventive supplementation or to fight mild symptoms, so options like 100mg or 250mg of CBD will suit you if you’re new to CBD oil or if you suffer from headaches caused by weather or changes in pressure.
On the other hand, if your migraine symptoms are on the verge of manageable and you’ve used up other resources, then opt for potencies of 1000mg and up — preferably with the full spectrum of cannabinoids.
Which brings us to the next point.
Opt for Full-spectrum CBD Extracts
Full-spectrum CBD oil contains all cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytonutrients from hemp.
Research shows there’s a unique synergy between cannabinoids and terpenes which greatly increases their effects — this concept is known as the entourage effect. Simply put, the aforementioned compounds are more effective together than each of them in isolation.
Studies suggest that full-spectrum extracts are superior to isolates in easing pain and inflammation, both of which affect migraine sufferers.
CBD Oil for Migraines: Can It Really Help?
While the research on CBD and migraines is in its early stages, what we already know is that this cannabinoid may be a potent anti-migraine agent with some potential to reduce or even eliminate migraine headaches for good.
If the theory that migraines are caused by endocannabinoid deficiencies finds confirmation in clinical human studies, we may finally find an effective tool for easing the symptoms of this painful condition and fixing the problem at its roots.
I hope this article has helped you understand the apparent relationship between CBD, the endocannabinoid system, and migraines — and that you’ll find the best CBD oil to relieve yourself from that crippling pain.
What’s your experience with using CBD oil for migraines?
- Greco, R., Gasperi, B., Maccarrone, M. & Tassorelli C. (2010) The Endocannabinoid System and Migraine. Experimental Neurology, 224(1), 85–91.
- Russo, E.B. (2008) Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD): Can This Concept Explain Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Other Treatment-resistant Conditions? Neuroendocrinology Letters, 29(2), 192–200.
- Greco, R., Mangione A.S., Sandrini, G., Maccarrone, M., Nappi, G., Tassorelli, C. (2011). Effects of Anandamide in Migraine: Data from an Animal Model. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 12(2), 177–183.
- De Petrocellis, L., Di Marzo, V. (2010). Non-CB1, non-CB2 Receptors for Endocannabinoids, Plant Cannabinoids, and Synthetic Cannabimimetics: Focus on G-protein-coupled Receptors and Transient Receptor Potential Channels. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology: the Official Journal of the Society on NeuroImmune Pharmacology, 5(1), 103–121.
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.