If you hear a ringing, buzz, roar, whistle, hum, click, hiss, or squeal in one or both ears, you may have tinnitus. The sounds you hear are called “phantom,” which means that only you can hear them – others around you cannot. Surveys estimate that 10% to 25% of adults have tinnitus, but children can have it, too.
Tinnitus can have many causes:
Noise exposure: At work, concerts, sporting events, or from noisy machinery
Age: The chance of getting tinnitus increases as you get older
Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) and certain antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-cancer drugs, and anti-malaria medications
Earwax: A buildup of earwax can cause hearing loss and a ringing sound in the ears.
Head or neck injuries: The skull, jaw, facial bones, and neck are all near the blood vessels and small bones that affect hearing.
Inner ear or tumor-related conditions: Pressure involving the bones of the inner ear can cause the brain to get signals from the inner ear that may result in hearing tinnitus sounds.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems: Since the ear is just behind the TMJ and shares some nerve supply, if the TMJ gets inflamed, it may cause tinnitus.
Blood vessel problems: If a blood vessel near the ear is narrowed, the disruption of the blood flow can lead to hearing a whooshing or heartbeat sound.
Other conditions include diabetes, migraines, thyroid disorders, anemia, and some autoimmune disorders.
Whatever the cause, the constant sounds of tinnitus can affect your quality of life, including sleep, concentration, and mood. There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments to reduce the symptoms and bring some relief. Some people are considering cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound found in marijuana, to ease their symptoms.
What Is CBD?
The marijuana, or cannabis, plant contains two widely recognized compounds – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – among its hundreds of other compounds. CBD is different from THC because CBD does not cause a “high.” Besides the marijuana plant, CBD can also be made from hemp, a plant that is also used to make ropes and fabrics. In 2018, Congress made hemp legal throughout the United States by passing the Agriculture Improvement Act, so CBD from hemp is legal, except in states where it’s still considered a controlled substance. The legality of marijuana-derived CBD is still evolving. It is legal in states where marijuana is already legal, but the FDA is still establishing guidelines.
Researchers are still looking at how CBD can be used to treat various health conditions. The cannabis plant has been used to treat nerve-related pain, anxiety, depression, headaches, and seizures. All of those conditions can be linked to tinnitus. But the effectiveness of CBD for tinnitus has not been proved. One study noted, “Limited research exists regarding the use of cannabis as a therapeutic agent among the tinnitus patient population.”
What CDB Can Do
The sounds of tinnitus can be very stressful, and anxiety is a common reaction to the phantom sounds. CDB has been found to reduce anxiety in some people. Current evidence shows that CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for some anxiety disorders, but there is a need for further study of its effects.
CBD can help with pain management. CBD may help lower inflammation, so if the tinnitus is caused by ear inflammation or an injury, it may be an option.
Cannabinoid receptors in the brain, known as CB1 and CB2, may play a role in balance and hearing. These receptors may respond to the presence of cannabis or CBD. That connection leads some people to believe CBD can help control tinnitus, but there has not been much research in this area.
Because CBD may play a role in easing anxiety, with the guidance of your doctor, you may be able to reduce other types of medications for anxiety or pain management.
What Are the Risks of CBD?
While there are some positive developments in the role CBD plays in tinnitus relief, one animal-related study found that cannabinoids such as CBD may actually make tinnitus worse. In the ear, the part called the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) is a region that is important to the creation of phantom sound perception, especially if your tinnitus is caused by noise. It has been suggested that CBD has an effect on certain receptors in the DCN, increasing activity in the cells that transmit sound information between the inner ear and the brain. This would cause an increase in tinnitus.
The FDA doesn’t currently regulate the quality of CBD products. In fact, in January 2023, the agency brought together a high-level internal working group to look into potential regulatory paths for CBD products and manage risks. Janet Woodcock, MD, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, noted that, “The use of CBD raises various safety concerns, especially with long-term use.”
The FDA has approved only one CBD product, Epidiolex, a prescription drug to treat seizures linked to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), Dravet syndrome (DS), or tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in people 1 year old and older.
Some side effects CDB are:
- Dry mouth
- Liver injury
- Interactions with other medications
- Drowsiness or sleepiness
- Damage to fertility in males
- Digestive problems such as diarrhea or a decreased appetite
- Mood changes such as crankiness or agitation
Many aspects of CBD have not been determined yet, such as its effect on the developing fetus or breastfed babies.
Where Can You Get CBD Products?
In states where it is legal, you can find over-the-counter CBD products in drugstores, grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. But most CBD sales – more than 60% – are made online. CBD products purchased over the counter, even from reputable retailers, are not FDA-approved or regulated.
It is important to buy CBD from a source that is as reputable as possible. In Biloxi, MS, in early 2023, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found synthetic or lab-made cannabis products mislabeled as CBD. Unlike CBD, synthetic cannabis – also known as spice, K2, fake weed, and synthetic marijuana – is a man-made, mind-altering chemical with serious side effects.
It may be safer to buy CBD at a dispensary, which is a place that is legally licensed to sell marijuana. Products in a dispensary should be labeled so that you can see how much CBD is in the product, and also whether it also contains any THC. Remember that THC can cause a high, so it may be dangerous if you are driving or operating dangerous equipment.
How to Use CBD
CBD is available as an oil, extract, capsule, patch, vape, gummy, or topical for use on skin. Often for tinnitus, CBD is given in oil form. The oil can be dripped under the tongue with a dropper. From under the tongue, the oil is absorbed quickly into your bloodstream.
If you want to try CBD to see if your tinnitus symptoms improve, it’s important to discuss with your health care professional how CBD will interact with any medications you are taking. For example, CBD oil for tinnitus may interact with blood-thinning medications, so consult with an audiologist (who treats hearing disorders) and your doctor first before using it.
How to Figure Out if CBD Is Right for You
In 2020, CBD products generated over $5 billion in sales. Despite its newfound popularity, before using CBD, discuss your options for tinnitus treatment with your health care professional. Use caution when purchasing CBD products. Even if the product is marketed as “the best CBD," it doesn't have to pass any tests to make that claim. State laws vary, and the FDA doesn't regulate CBD, meaning there is no way to actually prove or show beyond a doubt the product’s quality. CBD may be a helpful tool to manage tinnitus for some, but remember to discuss all the available options with your doctor to properly manage tinnitus.
Photo Credit: Christopher Robbins / Getty Images
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