I’m the person everyone in the office pings whenever they need some vague remedy — tea, vitamins, essential oils, cough drops. My desk might as well be the back corner of a CVS. So when cannabidiol, aka CBD, became The Thing of 2018, I naturally started to accumulate a bunch of it at my desk. One such sample was Sagely Natural’s Relief & Recovery Headache Roll-on ($29), which claims to alleviate headaches through a topical application of essential oils and 50 milligrams of rich, full spectrum hemp oil.
As a frequent headache-haver, I was intrigued at whether this product could reduce my need for a daily ibuprofen. While I am skeptical of any substance that isn’t regulated by the FDA (hello, supplements), I am very comfortable looking to traditional and holistic medicine for pain relief and other remedies, so long as there’s evidence to back it up. While research into CBD is limited because of the product’s semi-legality — the DEA has said that cannabis, the parent plant of CBD, is illegal on the federal level, but going after CBD manufacturers is not high on its list of priorities at the moment — science has shown that the compound has anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects.
Because I am, like many women who work at the computer, prone to tension headaches, I keep a steady supply of NSAIDs at my desk to manage them. But what if this topical treatment could help get rid of my headaches through the power of ~herbs~?
Sagely’s roll-on uses peppermint, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils, in combination with CBD, to mitigate the effects of headaches. “The CBD and essential oils provide calming and therapeutic benefits to relieve headaches and head tension,” Sagely co-founder and chief marketing officer Kerrigan Behrens tells Bustle via email. “Essential peppermint oil is cooling and anti-inflammatory and known to help relax and ease muscular aches and pains. […] Rosemary oil improves cognitive function and stimulates blood flow while eucalyptus oil is refreshing, removes mental sluggishness, and relieves minor pain.”
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, tells Bustle that research shows essential oils can indeed help with tension headaches. "It is believed that certain oils such as peppermint relax muscles and relieve pain when massaged into the temples. It may also be the added benefit of massage itself" — the application of the rollerball over your temples, in this case — "[releases] stress that reduces the tension causing the headache."
When it comes to the efficacy of CBD, though, the science is a bit more mixed. Behrens says, the “CBD [in the rollerball] works with localized endocannabinoid receptors to either revert neurochemical release back to appropriate levels or reduce headache-inducing inflammation in acute muscles, tissues, and blood vessel networks.”
But Dr. Hafeez says that while CBD has been shown to have positive effects on migraines, it "has little empirical value" because of how limited the research is. "While it has [been] shown to reduce headaches, it also reduces energy levels, and so the findings are mixed, and not conclusive." On the flip side, however, Dr. Hafeez does note that because CBD is typically considered safe, it can be "viable alternative to overuse of medications." (Overuse of medications is a particular issue with headaches, as it can potentially cause rebound headaches, according to the American Migraine Foundation; it's defined as using a medication like an NSAID for over 15 days a month, or drinking more than 200mg of caffeine per day.)
With this in mind, I popped the roll-on in my purse, ready to whip it out whenever that familiar pressure crept across my forehead.
Of course, as soon as I resolve to test out a headache product, I don't get one for the next several days. Finally, I notice a tightening above my eyebrow starting to creep across my forehead around 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. My time has come! The rollerball smells strongly of peppermint at first sniff, then a bit like citrus. I glide it across my brow bone, then on my temples, as the packaging suggests I apply it. The cool rollerball and the pressure of the product feel good in and of themselves, and I’m wondering how quickly it’ll take for the relief to set in. Within five minutes, my forehead has relaxed itself, and I’m feeling back to my usual. I can feel a little bit of the essential oils in roll-on residually. The sensation is not unlike waiting five minutes after putting Icy Hot on a sore muscle.
The following week, I find I haven't really been sleeping well at all — a combination of having a persistent cough and taking nighttime medicine for said cough, which only ever makes me super groggy the entire next day. Around 2:30 I start to feel that tiredness showing up around my temples. I hit up the rollerball and chase with chai tea. I love how cool the rollerball is. Again, that cooling sensation (Tiger Balm style) lingered as my headache dissipated. Later in the day, though, the ice-pick-ness comes back to my temples in waves, and unfortunately the feeling doesn’t go away with the roll-on.
Without a consistent supply of headaches of my own to try the rollerball on, I entreat others in my life to try it. While driving, my boyfriend complains he's getting a headache, so I offer him the roll-on. “I think the menthol" — meaning, eucalyptus — "would be the most effective part,” he says, adding dryly that it’s not like he doesn’t believe in the “healing power of cannabis.” He offers no further comment re: whether or not it was effective.
Later that week, I find myself slightly overcaffeinated, which results in a subtle headache. Before going into a morning meeting (iced tea in hand), I roll it on again. I smell very minty, and my headache kind of goes away. My friend and coworker has a headache from being out too late the night before, and asks for some too. When we meet up later in the day to go for a walk, she mentions that her headache cleared up. Win! While she says that she has also had a significant amount of carbs and coffee for the day, she begrudgingly admits that the roll-on might have worked too.
While I was pleasantly surprised to find that my headaches generally retreated when I applied the roll-on, every time I wondered if it worked because of the CBD, the essential oils, or the rollerball's cooling effects themselves — or even if it was the placebo effect. People who get headaches a lot will likely agree with me, however, when I say that it doesn't always matter *why* a particular remedy works — just that it does. I'll likely continue using Sagely's roll-on when I feel a headache creeping on, if only because it smells nice. But I'll likely couple it with my tried and true headache treatments — getting lots of sleep, drinking lots of water, and trying not to stare at a screen for a million hours a day.
Readers should note that the regulations and data surrounding marijuana, CBD, and other related products are still developing. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as medical or legal advice. Always consult with your doctor before trying any substance or supplement.