I was 21 the first time I experienced the full-on, no-holds-barred symptoms of a migraine. The women in my family — mom and sister included — had complained about the merciless grip of migraines for years.
“Oh, you can wear headbands?” “You fall asleep with your hair in a pony?” “Better watch out you don’t get migraines. “I always wondered: Were they goading? Were they jealous that I was migraineless and devoid of pain?
But then I sat at my desk job, experiencing strange flashes of light at awkward times as I stared ahead at my computer screen. Why was my vision blurring? I thought: I am going blind. Why is everything so loud and so dark and so muffled and so bright all at the same time?
I had finally joined the club my mom and sister had always referenced: the nearly 30 million Americans who suffer from migraines. By 26, I’d only had generally fleeting experiences with migraines, but that was more than enough for me. My sister, in comparison, suffers from a migraine almost weekly — and the debilitating kind, too. There are times when she has to call a babysitter (or my parents) to come over and watch her four children because her migraine is so incapacitating she can’t even get out of bed.
Unbearable symptoms aside, here’s another reason why migraines completely suck: up to 40 percent of people who take traditional medicine to treat migraines do not experience relief. And with so much of the inner workings and mechanisms of migraines misunderstood, it can be tiring trying to find the cause and trying to ways to treat and prevent migraines.
Between my own mostly mild experiences and my sister’s encumbering migraine journey, I set off on a mission to find something — anything — that would work for us. The most promising “pill” I’ve found so far is a natural one: cannabidiol (CBD), a derivative of cannabis.
Heady Stuff: The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the body’s network of neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors. The ECS is responsible for regulating levels of cannabinoids naturally produced inside of the body. It works when cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body and are then activated. One such receptor is CB1, the receptor responsible for regulating pain. When CB1 receptors become activated, the body’s ability to naturally signal pain may be decreased. This doesn’t mean less pain; it just means a lower pain tolerance. The pain, however, is still there and if anything, heightened.
So what happens if you experience chronically low cannabinoid levels, also known as “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency”? You may be experiencing chronic migraines if you have developed a pathology; in this case, CBD can serve as an effective prevention method for mitigating and staving off migraines. But that’s not always the case. Many people can experience migraines without developing a specific pathology. While my sister’s case is the former, I’m the prime example of the latter.
“Many people may be deficient without yet having developed a pathology,” explains Elizabeth Moriarty, Clinical Herbalist and Formulator at Luminary Medicine Company. “For these people, CBD serves as a preventative measure. Since we see strong familial patterns with these conditions, it’s reasonable to take CBD as a prophylactic against pathogenesis of one of these disease states.” Moriarity is also the genius behind our Superior CBD liposomal formula.
A specific endocannabinoid called “anandamide” exists in the cerebrospinal fluid. One study found that people who frequently suffer from migraines generally possess less anandamide in their cerebrospinal fluid. In contrast, people with increased levels of anandamide in their cerebrospinal fluid were less likely to experience migraines.
Real pure chocolate contains anandamide which may be a big reason people crave chocolate at the onset of a migraine; it may be your body attempting to treat a migraine before it even begins.
What Exactly Is A Migraine?
A migraine is a throbbing headache that often affects one side of the head. It can be accompanied by myriad symptoms such as nausea, distorted vision, flashes of light, and dizziness. In some cases, migraines can be recurrent.
“Scientists and clinicians believe that migraine headaches may occur due to a combination of hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances and the activation of a collection of neurons and blood vessels of the brain called the trigeminovascular system,” explains Dr. Olivia Rose ND, a naturopathic doctor, Senior Clinical Specialist for Cannabis Consulting, and advisory board member for Remedy Review.
Frequent migraines can be caused or triggered by hormonal changes such as cyclical changes that occur in menstruating women. A change in the barometric pressure, emotional stress, muscle tension, low blood sugar, subluxations in cervical spine and mood disorders such as anxiety can also be triggers.
While migraine triggers can vary vastly, CBD is becoming more and more known for its positive effects on the ailment.
CBD For Migraines
The idea behind treating migraines with CBD is that since migraine sufferers are likely deficient in endocannabinoids, the best way to treat their pain is to supplement them with the endocannabinoids of plants — phytocannabinoids.
“People manifest different pathogenic states as a result of endocannabinoid deficiency, based upon their own unique collection of deficiencies, stressors, biochemistry, and metabolic characteristics,” says Moriarty. “A migraine is one of the three conditions that are best established as involving clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED or CECD): migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.”
Because migraines fall into this category of conditions, CBD for migraines is known to be a super effective treatment and preventative measure.
“CBD oil interacts with many receptors in the endocannabinoid system, the two primary ones — and most studied — being the CB1 and CB2 receptors,” says Gabriel Aly of Honest CBD Reviews.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for homeostasis — a balance — in the body. When the homeostasis is lost a whole host of issues happens, as this system helps regulate a lot of functions. Maintaining this homeostasis will help with headache treatment.
Your body, at all times of optimal health, requires homeostasis. And whenever your body isn’t in homeostasis, inevitably upset by something or other, it is desperately trying to revert back to that state of stable equilibrium. Repairing the endocannabinoid system by feeding it phytocannabinoids is one such way to potentially restore that state.
“The endocannabinoid system may have a significant role in a migraine attack,” continues Rose.
Anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid — meaning the body produces it — has been shown to be reduced in the cerebral spinal fluid of migraine sufferers. Anandamide’s role is to help maintain homeostasis in the body through regulating the endocannabinoid system. It binds to receptors located in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system and influences pain perception, immune system functions, sleep and mood.
CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system indirectly. It inhibits the FAAH enzyme, which is responsible for rapidly degrading anandamide. Therefore, less FAAH enzyme means more anandamide and better pain control.
“This is a big deal,” continues Moriarty. “CBD protects your body’s anandamide level, and anandamide is extremely important in pain management, stress management, and overall sense of well-being. Happiness. It’s called the ‘bliss molecule’ because it is.”
If it’s starting to sound like migraines are directly linked to hormonal shifts, then there’s a reason for that. It’s because they are.
“Estrogen regulates FAAH,” says Moriarty.
Declining estrogen results in declining anandamide, and increases the incidence of CECD-related conditions as we flow further down the biochemical stream. This further helps us to understand the transition into menopause. It also suggests mechanisms of action for higher incidences of endocannabinoid deficiency-related conditions in women.
With all the hormonal shifts associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstruation, it’s no wonder that there are pills on the market, like Midol, to combat the pain and CECD-related conditions associated with them.
Analgesic is just another word for “painkiller.” But with CBD, nature’s painkiller, such pills are rendered unnecessary, even during the worst symptoms of hormonal fluctuations.
“CBD interacts with the body’s endogenous opioid receptors in the brain stem to provide an analgesic effect,” says Dr. Rose.
In other words, say goodbye to Midol.
As cannabis possesses over 100 types of cannabinoids, it is the obvious natural source from which to extract the supplemental cannabinoids needed by people experiencing cannabinoid deficiencies. The cannabinoids are extracted in the form of oils.
It’s important to understand that “hemp” and “marijuana” are legal terms, not terms of botanical taxonomy. Hemp cannabis is any plant containing less than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight plant material, and marijuana cannabis is any plant containing 0.3 percent or more THC. Humans have selected for different strains over millennia, resulting in strong dominance of CBD in some strains, referred to as hemp, and strong dominance of THC in other strains referred to as marijuana.
Marijuana is only legal in some states, and is generally not an ideal source of CBD for most people since very few strains have meaningful amounts of CBD. Further, while marijuana has a valuable place in the management of many conditions, the accompanying cognitive effects of THC limits the amount and timing of use of marijuana. As a result, hemp cannabis is the recognized prime source of CBD. Since the oil extract has less than 0.3 percent of THC — the element of the marijuana plant that gets you high — the oil itself will not get you high in the traditional sense associated with cannabis.
Because CBD does not have the ability to get you high, it is being hailed as the perfect pain management option, devoid of psychoactive properties associated with marijuana. Thus, CBD for migraines is ideal for inhibiting pain and preventing migraines altogether.
Say Hello To CBD, And Goodbye To Migraines
CBD can be enjoyed as pills, tinctures, delicious oils, and more. (You can even find cannabinoid-infused chocolate and other edibles!) The recommended dosage to start with is usually 10 milligrams. From that origin point, you can work your way up to what works specifically for you and your migraine pain.
“There isn’t much research specific to dosing for migraine headaches at this time. The available research on chronic pain control and CBD demonstrate improvements in the study participants who take CBD on a regular basis as a preventative measure,” says Dr. Rose. “It’s always best to start with a low dose and titrate up slowly until you achieve the desired effect — i.e., a decrease in migraine frequency or reduction in pain.”
CBD oil derived from hemp plants is absolutely legal in all 50 states. So you can find preventative migraine relief through CBD without the added federal headache.
“The most commonly used methods of supplementing with CBD for people seeking relief from or prevention of migraines are oral/gastric delivery and sublingual delivery,” says Moriarty.
Remember that some products that state ‘sublingual’ are not reduced-particle liposomal, and are not absorbed under the tongue or in the cheek, so are really oral/gastric delivery. Since gastric delivery is 85-89 percent degraded by enzymes as it is processed in the liver, approximately t10 times the dose is needed to achieve the same bioavailability of the liposomal sublingual delivery forms of CBD.
“If you suffer from persistent migraines you should be taking a very small amount of CBD daily for around a month,” Backe adds. “That being said, specific dosages vary based on the individual so one should check with their doctor before use.”
But be wary: CBD is not a catch-all for ailments. For those with a developed pathology, CBD should be looked at as more of a preventative measure, like a daily vitamin C you take in order to ward off cold and flu symptoms. Once a migraine (or another ailment has already hit), CBD might not do much for those with developed pathologies (although it can help reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety, even once they’ve already hit). What CBD can do for you directly relates to the frequency and intensity of your particular migraine headaches.
“CBD oil can be taken both as a preventative measure and at the first onset of a headache acutely,” says Dr. Rose.
It may be possible to reduce the dose of migraine medication when CBD is taken regularly. However, it’s important to work with your health care provider to ensure there are no interactions with the introduction of CBD to your medication regimen. In studies where participants take either cannabis (CBD with THC and the other plant constituents) or just CBD oil, a reduction in acute pain and a decrease in migraine frequency is often reported.
As for my sister and I, we’ve both gone the CBD route, though admittedly we each have different preferred vehicles. My sister swears by vaping CBD oil; tinctures, gummies, and other CBD methods weren’t strong enough for her. At first, she was mainly using them to heal migraines already fully-realized. Now, she hits her vape several times throughout the day which allows her to take preventative measures rather than last-minute ones. “The CBD, combined with the deep inhalation that a vape requires, is the only thing that works for me,” she tells me on the phone.
For me, I use CBD for migraines preventatively too — only taking 1 ML of tincture per day. For my sister, who experiences more intense and more frequent migraines, vaping a higher concentration is the modicum of CBD that works best. For me, a lavender-tinted tincture once daily starts off my day in the right direction. Now our whole immediate family has become CBD converts: Even my father takes a low-concentration pill daily.
Whatever works, works. Am I right?
Steph Osmanski is a freelance health and wellness writer, blogger, and brand consultant. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton.
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