There are anecdotal reports that CBD oil can relieve tinnitus. As people seek relief from their tinnitus, some are trying alternative treatments like CBD or THC oil. Although CBD oil is being promoted to help relieve tinnitus, research suggests that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC may worsen or aggravate tinnitus rather than alleviate it.
First, what is tinnitus? Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is defined as the perception and awareness of sound that is not physically present in the environment. These sounds can be in the form of ringing, buzzing, chirping, hissing, roaring, or even musical tones. People experience tinnitus intermittently or constantly, loudly or softly, and in one or both ears. It affects at least 25 percent of the American population at some stage in their lives. The prevalence of tinnitus increases with age.
There are numerous causes of tinnitus, such as exposure to loud noise, inhalation of solvents, head and neck injuries, certain medications or drugs, and certain medical conditions such as Meniere’s disease. The mechanisms underlying tinnitus are not fully understood, with the consensus being that tinnitus is a result of changes in the neural activity within the brain as a result of damage to the ear.
There is no magic cure or medication for tinnitus, although there are various treatment methods to lessen the volume and decrease the stress response related to the tinnitus.
Second, what is CBD? CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of many chemical compounds extracted from the flowers, leaves, and buds of cannabis plants, also known as marijuana or hemp, depending on the strain. Hemp plants are very similar to marijuana plants but contain much lower levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical that causes a psychoactive high in marijuana users. CBD is different than THC in that the CBD users do not experience a high like THC users experience. CBD can be made into oils, tinctures, gels, and sprays. CBD has become increasingly popular since Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act in 2018. This act removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and opened the marketing door for promotion of the non-narcotic aspects of the cannabis plant.
CBD has become extremely popular in the wellness industry since 2018, with companies selling the chemical compound in various forms. They claim it can treat a multitude of conditions including headaches, body aches and pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, acne, and tinnitus. Rigorous medical research, so far, is lacking for most of these conditions. Currently, the only FDA-approved CBD drug is the medication Epidiolex, which has been proven to treat two rare forms of epilepsy or brain seizures.
It’s important to know that the commercial market is unregulated and products vary widely in quality. For example, products that use hemp seed oil do not contain any actual CBD. Medical-grade CBD is still largely restricted to states in dispensaries where marijuana has been legalized, either for THC or CBD or both.
Back to the question of whether marijuana, THC, or CBD can alleviate tinnitus. Research is scant, but current research says no. In a 2019 journal article, researchers Z. Qian and J. Alyono reported that marijuana users were nearly 20 times more likely to report having tinnitus as compared to nonusers. A marijuana user in the study was defined as a person who had used marijuana at least once per month for the past 12 months. In their analysis, the researchers factored out other causes of tinnitus such as hearing loss, noise exposure, anxiety, depression, excessive alcohol use, and illegal drug use.
Since the use of cannabinoids has been found to have anti-epileptic properties, a group of researchers studied whether THC could reduce tinnitus in rats. Believe it or not, rats can be trained to elicit certain behaviors if they experience tinnitus. The researchers induced tinnitus in the rats by exposing them to loud noise and then administered THC to the rats and measured whether the tinnitus was reduced by the THC. Contrary to reducing the tinnitus, their results suggested that the cannabinoids promoted the development of tinnitus, especially in rats with pre-existing hearing loss.
It is still too early to determine whether CBD products benefit individuals with tinnitus. For the studies published so far, the answer is that tinnitus may be worsened by cannabidiols rather than improved. It is also unknown whether CBD products will interact with other medications and supplements you may be taking, so be sure to tell your healthcare providers if you are using CBD supplements. Some known side effects of CBD are diarrhea, drowsiness, fatigue, and dry mouth.
If you have bothersome tinnitus, please call the audiologists at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic for a medical hearing evaluation of your hearing history, hearing ability, and tinnitus. We can provide solutions to alleviate your tinnitus, including, but not limited to, hearing aids with tinnitus-masking features, tinnitus maskers, examination of exacerbating factors, and referral to appropriate healthcare providers for conditions related to the tinnitus.
Shelly Horvat, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).