The Best Ways to Absorb CBD for Migraine Relief: All 4 Methods
The following article is a guide on the best ways to absorb CBD for migraine relief and looks at inhalation, oral, sublingual, and topical methods of absorption. Each method of CBD absorption has its own benefits and drawbacks, making them useful at different times for migraine prevention, migraine relief, or both. You might choose one method or even combine all four methods during the stressful event of a migraine.
To take a deeper dive into the research, I have full articles on each method of migraine relief: inhalation, oral, sublingual, and topical. If you’re curious about why migraine sufferers are using CBD or want to learn more about the research, you can read this article or my book Hemp for Migraine.
Without further ado, the following will give you a quick overview of the best ways to absorb CBD, their benefits and pitfalls, and everything in between.
8 Things You Should Know About CBD Absorption for Migraines
8. What Are the Methods of CBD Absorption?
Inhalation refers to inhaling CBD vapor from vape juice or from the flower of CBD-rich hemp or marijuana. Both hemp and the marijuana flower are from the cannabis plant; however, hemp contains low amounts of THC and will not get you high. CBD vapor may provide almost instant migraine relief, but it’s short lived and isn’t the best option for daily migraine prevention.
Oral absorption refers to the use of CBD pills, capsules, or edibles. Oral absorption is too slow for quick migraine relief and is generally used for migraine prevention because it lasts a long time and it’s easy to pop a couple of CBD capsules every day. Oral absorption is considered the least effective method of CBD absorption because much of the CBD is lost during the digestion process in the gut.
Oral absorption happens in the gut. In contrast, sublingual absorption happens in the capillaries in the cheek and under the tongue. Sublingual absorption occurs when you place a hemp extract under the tongue for 30 to 90 seconds before you swallow the remainder. This is the best all-around method of CBD absorption for migraine because it is quick, absorbs effectively, and provides long-lasting relief. Sublingual extracts can be used for migraine prevention or fast migraine relief.
Topical absorption may prevent migraines when you apply a CBD cream to the forehead, temples, jaw, neck, and shoulders. This method directly targets the nerves that trigger migraines and their surrounding muscles. You can use CBD topically to prevent migraines or to provide some pain relief during a migraine attack. Because topical absorption does not enter the bloodstream, you can combine this method with any other method of CBD absorption, such as sublingual CBD, for full body relief.
Bioavailability is the amount of CBD that the body absorbs. An injection is 100 percent bioavailable, but you only absorb a fraction of the CBD that you get from inhalation, sublingual, oral, or topical administration. It’s important to note that there is a lot of misleading information about which method has the best absorption rates and the studies are conflicting to say the least.      
The amount of CBD that makes it into the body depends on the type of hemp, quality, manufacturing processes, added ingredients, the individual, and how the study was conducted. Studies that are paid for by a CBD manufacturer will usually show high absorption rates, but you should be skeptical because these products need to be verified by independent research. The following sums up the bulk of the research on CBD absorption, but keep in mind that you can find outlier studies in each group that claim their product has superior absorption to any other product or method of CBD absorption.
Here’s the gist:
CBD capsules, pills, and edibles consistently have the lowest bioavailability out of all of the methods of CBD absorption. There are studies that have found that oral cannabinoids can outperform other methods, especially when healthy fats are added, but in general, oral comes in dead last for cannabinoid absorption. CBD doesn’t absorb well in the gut and migraine sufferers are more likely to have gut issues that reduce the absorption rate of CBD as well as other nutrients. 
Anything that you eat or swallow needs to be processed by the gut lining and liver before it enters the blood, which is called “first-pass metabolism.” Multiple studies on cannabinoids acknowledge that first-pass metabolism is a significant barrier where the body loses cannabinoids. Sublingual absorption skips this barrier and most studies show that you absorb about twice as many cannabinoids from placing the extract under the tongue before you swallow it.
So, why swallow the remainder of the extract? Hemp extracts may contain healthy fats, terpenes, and other cannabinoids that may also be absorbed in the gut and increase the medicinal benefits of CBD. Skip down to the section on the entourage effect for more info. Sublingual CBD is the best method of absorption because it efficiently gets CBD into the blood and may provide additional nutrients that help fight migraines.
CBD absorbs extremely well through the skin to target the nerves and muscles associated with migraine. Like sublingual or vapor absorption, topical CBD avoids the loss of CBD experienced during “first-pass metabolism.” The absorption of CBD through the skin is 10 times higher than THC absorption. The high absorption rate and effectiveness of CBD may be why CBD products are exploding in popularity within the cosmetic industry.
While THC has a low absorption rate, it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory that can add to the medicinal benefits of CBD. CBD does not get you high. THC can get you high and cause sedative side effects, but since topical cannabinoids do not enter the bloodstream, you can use copious amounts of CBD and THC topical cream without inducing any side effects.
CBD vapor generally has the highest absorption rate out of all the methods of absorption, although it can vary drastically depending on the amount of vapor inhaled, the heat, hold time, lung volume, and a bunch of other factors relating to the quality of the vaporizer and product. Although CBD vapor has the highest absorption rate and may be the best method for rapid migraine relief, there are some health concerns about the chronic use of vaporizers and you may not want to use a CBD vaporizer in the large quantities needed for daily migraine prevention.
6. Speed and Duration of Migraine Relief
Inhalation is the fastest method of cannabinoid absorption. Cannabinoids in the blood skyrocket to high levels in just a couple of minutes. However, it also provides the shortest time of relief. CBD levels plunge back down over the next four hours and migraine relief may last as little as one hour. Migraine medications need to act fast to stop an oncoming migraine or relieve a migraine that has already taken hold. New research shows that cannabinoids also need to get into the blood as fast as possible for acute migraine relief.  Speed makes inhalation a great choice for acute migraine relief, but because CBD vapor leaves the body fast, it is not a great option for migraine prevention.
Oral CBD can take 30 to 90 minutes to absorb. Seconds matter when attempting to abort a migraine or reduce migraine pain, so oral CBD misses the boat for acute migraine relief. However, oral ingestion of cannabinoids can provide peak levels of CBD in the blood anywhere from one to six hours after consumption.  The long duration of elevated CBD blood levels can provide over eight hours of relief, and this makes CBD capsules a better option for migraine prevention than acute migraine relief.
Sublingual absorption of CBD may start within a minute, and high levels of CBD are found in the blood within 15 minutes. Peak levels of CBD are found in about an hour.  Sublingual CBD can provide over eight hours of substantially elevated CBD blood levels. Absorption of sublingual CBD is not as fast as inhalation, but it outperforms any migraine medication in pill form. Because sublingual absorption starts in seconds, you could use a high dose to get quick migraine relief. Sublingual CBD is fast like inhalation, provides better absorption than oral CBD, and comes with extended relief. Sublingual CBD is great for acute migraine relief because it is fast and it is even better for migraine prevention because it stays in the blood for a long time.
Research suggests that topical CBD is effective at reducing pain, inflammation, and the peptide responsible for triggering migraines (CGRP). We know CBD absorbs well through the skin to target the nerves and surrounding muscles that trigger migraines, but I haven’t found clinical research on the speed and duration of relief. Most CBD manufacturers claim that CBD begins to provide pain relief in 5 to 15 minutes and relief can last 4 to 8 hours. Longer durations of relief are typically from higher doses of CBD creams. In my personal experience, I’ve used topical CBD for injuries and felt remarkable pain relief in under five minutes and that relief continued for eight plus hours. It’s incredible. Ultimately, you will need to try different amounts of topical CBD to experience how long your muscles and nerves feel relaxed.
A topical CBD dose that provides consistent relaxation to the nerves that trigger migraines and their surrounding muscles should help prevent and relieve migraines. You may need several doses of topical CBD throughout the day to maintain constant relief for migraine prevention.
In addition to the speed and duration of CBD’s migraine relief, you should also keep in mind that the dosage and the other ingredients that your hemp product contains can make absorption faster, more powerful, and last longer. The ideal dosage of a full-spectrum hemp extract that is taken sublingually is likely to fall between 15 mg and 100 mg per day for migraine prevention and relief. I don’t have research for topical cannabinoid cream dosages. You can read more about dosage here to learn about your individual CBD dosage and all of the pitfalls you will need to avoid. When using CBD, make sure you follow the directions from the CBD manufacturer and, above all, consult with your doctor about your specific CBD dose.
4. Avoid Fake CBD Products
Most CBD products on the market are mislabeled, and by “mislabeled” I mean they are lying to you. According to the FDA and research published in JAMA, most CBD products contain ingredients that are not listed on the label, inaccurate amounts of cannabinoids, or are just plain fake.  Yes, fake. You need to be more than skeptical when purchasing CBD.
You want to find reliable CBD companies that provide third-party testing results to make sure your product contains the ingredients you want and leaves out the possibly dangerous ingredients that you don’t want. Regardless of whether you are looking at a CBD vape, extract, capsule, or cream, the first thing you need to find out is if the product is real and pure. Fake CBD products are a big problem and you want to avoid them.
3. What Kind of CBD Vape Juice, Extract, Capsules, and Creams Do I Buy?
After you make sure you have found a reliable CBD company that provides pure products, you need to decide if you want pure CBD or a full-spectrum hemp extract. Some migraine sufferers choose pure or isolated CBD because it has few to no side effects. Pure CBD is a good choice if you can’t have any THC or are ultra-sensitive to THC. A full-spectrum hemp extract contains low amounts of THC that won’t cause psychoactive effects—you won’t get high—but THC can cause side effects such as mental sluggishness or drowsiness in low doses for those who are extremely sensitive.
I recommend a full-spectrum extract that includes small amounts of THC as well as other cannabinoids, terpenes, vitamins, healthy fats, and other nutrients found within the hemp plant. I’ll have a full article on the many reasons why the entourage effect will benefit migraine sufferers soon or you can read my book now.
Hemp extracts may contain over 80 different cannabinoids,
including CBC, CBG, THCV, CBDV, CBN, and many others. They add to CBD’s ability
to fight against migraines. For example, CBDV shows anti-seizure effects in
animals and is currently under trials for treating epilepsy in humans.
Epilepsy medications treat migraines, which is one reason why CBD may benefit
migraine sufferers, and CBDV may add to or even surpass the effectiveness of
CBD as a migraine treatment. That’s only one example of the many cannabinoids
found in hemp. The lesser-known cannabinoids will make a splash in migraine
research for many reasons and so will terpenes.
β-caryophyllene is one of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis and has an anti-inflammatory effect that is as strong as indomethacin, which is used to treat migraines. CBD is anti-inflammatory and THC has twenty times the anti-inflammatory potency of aspirin. Inflammation triggers migraines and anti-inflammatories are powerful migraine treatments. The anti-inflammatory potency of numerous cannabinoids and terpenes will add to the migraine fighting power of your CBD product of choice.
Healthy fats are also important for the endocannabinoid system, whether the product contains healthy fats or you take them separately. A study by the University of Nottingham found that healthy fats increased the absorption of CBD threefold in animal research. Furthermore,
breakthrough research published by the University of Illinois found that healthy fats convert into your body’s own natural endocannabinoids. Healthy fats might be why the ketogenic diet shows higher success rates in migraine research than any other medication ever developed. You may want to use a hemp extract that also contains healthy fats from MCT oil, olive oil, or hemp seed oil.
These are just a few examples of the entourage effect. When you read more about the endocannabinoid system, you’ll discover that defeating migraines is about improving your overall endocannabinoid system and a full-spectrum hemp product can help you get there faster.
Sum it Up
2. The Downsides
Inhalation: The chronic use of CBD vape juices have health concerns and many vape juices do not include all of the nutrients that compose the entourage effect. More research is needed before CBD vapor can be recommended in large doses for migraine prevention. A specific dose may also be difficult to measure in a vaporizer. You may want to limit CBD vapor to acute use for stopping an approaching migraine and immediate migraine relief.
Oral: CBD capsules and edibles have the lowest absorption rates out of all absorption methods. Migraine sufferers are also more likely to have gut problems, which will limit digestion further.
Not only does oral CBD have the worst absorption rate, but it also has the slowest absorption rate, which makes it the least effective method for acute migraine relief. The dosage is also set (e.g. 15 mg or 25 mg capsules) and this makes it difficult if you need slightly more or less CBD.
Sublingual: A full-spectrum hemp extract can taste bad and the process of dropping a hemp extract into your mouth can feel awkward in public.
Topical: The dosage of topical CBD for migraine is unknown and it has the least amount of research out of all the methods of absorption. Topical CBD creams will directly target the nerves associated with migraine but do not enter the blood. CBD in the blood helps improve your entire body’s endocannabinoid system and helps reduce total levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, which in turn helps fight migraines. CBD is not a migraine cure. The goal of using CBD is to improve your natural endocannabinoid system to fight migraine triggers. Topical CBD may help you get there, but you will probably need to use topical CBD in combination with the inhalation, oral, or sublingual methods of CBD absorption.
1. The Upsides
Inhalation: CBD vapor provides the highest rate of absorption and it’s the fastest method of absorption. It’s perfect for acute migraine relief. It can also immediately relieve specific migraine triggers such as stress before they transform into a migraine.
Oral: This is by far the easiest method to absorb CBD. If you don’t like the idea of using a vaporizer and don’t like the taste of a full-spectrum hemp extract, this method of migraine prevention may be for you. There is a chance that CBD capsules that contain healthy fats and the entourage effect will benefit you as much as any other method. Like I said, the research is inconsistent and there are outlier studies that show oral CBD can be effective.
Here’s the thing. Migraine prevention could happen instantly or it could take months. Consistency is important. The ease of taking a pill once or twice a day could help you achieve your goal of improving the endocannabinoid system to beat migraines. The oral method of CBD absorption might not be the best method, but it is still a powerful treatment option and its ease of use may help people achieve their migraine goals.
Sublingual: Sublingual is the best all-around method of CBD absorption, hands down. Sublingual absorption is almost as fast as inhalation and sticks around as long as oral absorption. There are plenty of full-spectrum extracts from reliable companies that provide the entourage effect with all of the other nutrients that help CBD fight migraines. Sublingual CBD does it all.
Topical: CBD absorbs fast and efficiently to target the nerves and surrounding muscles that trigger migraines. Cannabinoids don’t make it into the bloodstream, so you will be able to use a full-spectrum hemp extract or marijuana extract without worrying about side effects. This means you can add it to other methods of CBD absorption. You also won’t need to worry if you have a job that may test for THC. Topical cannabinoid creams are an incredible addition to your treatment options for migraine prevention or relief.
Check out my articles on the inhalation, oral, sublingual, and topical methods of absorbing CBD for migraine relief. Learn more about CBD dosing, or go big and get the full picture of why the endocannabinoid system prevents migraines in my book. I wish you the best.