People often describe their own experience of tinnitus as a ringing sound in their ears. This perception of sound varies from person to person, with some experiencing more of a buzzing or clicking sound at noise pitches across the scale.
Tinnitus is a condition that affects around 10-15% of adults in the US and it can be either a temporary or chronic condition. It is often caused by inner ear damage and loss of the sensory hair cells and receptors in the cochlea. This leads to two main problems:
- Neural plasticity: The capacity of the nervous system to functionally and structurally modify itself in response to experience and injury
- Auditory transduction: The process of converting sound waves into electrical signals to be interpreted by the brain
There is currently little understanding of what causes damage to the hair cells, but there is an extensive list of treatments, supplements, and dietary theories aimed at improving the potential causes.
Common treatments include treating earwax buildup, noise-masking devices, therapy, and medications. There is also growing anecdotal evidence suggesting that CBD can be used as a natural therapeutic method to treat the symptoms of tinnitus.
Understanding the Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is often characterized by a ringing in the ears, but for some sufferers, the scale of their symptoms can cause a significant disturbance to their daily lives.
Symptoms can vary quite a lot and compared with roughly 15% of the US reporting tinnitus-like symptoms, only around 2% experience a constant sound – chronic tinnitus. The reported sounds differ between each person and the most reported types of sound include ringing, buzzing, hissing, static, crickets, roaring, whooshing, dial tones, and clicking.
There are many potential causes of tinnitus. In some cases, it is caused by persistent exposure to loud music or loud environments. It could also be the result of a blockage in the ear or a side-effect from using certain drugs like aspirin, anti-inflammatories, loop diuretics, antidepressants, and some antibiotics. Medical conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some allergies may be contributing factors. Other causes are more severe including Meniere’s disease, Otosclerosis, and there is even evidence to suggest tinnitus is a hereditary condition.
Fortunately, for a lot of people, it is manageable and does not lead to hearing loss. Tinnitus just becomes the norm. Sometimes you will tune into it more than others.
The problem is when it starts to affect your work, sleep, and daily activities. For those who struggle to manage their tinnitus, it can often lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, and other mental health issues.
The Science Behind CBD
Cannabis has been used in medicine for thousands of years but the therapeutic benefits of CBD are a relatively recent discovery. A surge in research is discovering more ways in which CBD can help sufferers of numerous ailments relieve their symptoms with an all-natural product instead of heavy pharmaceuticals.
CBD contains almost a hundred endocannabinoids in very specific amounts—almost like a naturally evolved perfect recipe—plus terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, and essential oils. These all contribute to the natural endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of chemicals and receptors throughout the brain and body. Its primary function is maintaining a balance or homeostasis. Cannabinoid receptors can be found in almost every organ in the body, including the auditory system, and they control the release of neural transmitters. These receptors are most abundant in the brain and are found in areas responsible for motor coordination, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, stress, and reward.
Stress was the first endocannabinoid found in the body and was given the name anandamide which is Sanskrit for bliss. When we experience stress, there is a surge of endocannabinoids to make us highly alert to threats. This rush of endocannabinoids is equally important in helping us recover spike in stress effectively helping to bring us back down.
For those who struggle to regulate stress levels, THC and CBD can help by introducing more cannabinoids into our system to support our naturally present levels.
Theoretical Mechanisms for Tinnitus Relief with CBD and Cannabis
Sticking with stress, it has been recently discovered that stress and tinnitus are interconnected. A 2018 study concluded that while stress may not cause tinnitus, it is directly related to tinnitus annoyance.
So, does that mean that people could use CBD or cannabis to treat tinnitus?
There are various trains of thought on the relationship between CBD and tinnitus. They fall into two categories:
- Cannabinoids have a direct influence on auditory modulation through the endocannabinoid system
- Cannabis and CBD are natural anti-inflammatories and anxiety suppressants, both of which are aggravating factors for tinnitus.
The anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety benefits of the cannabis plant mean that they reduce individual reliance on pharmaceutical medication for these issues. This is an important consideration because it is widely accepted that many anti-depressants and anti-inflammatory drugs list tinnitus as a main side effect.
Cannabis and CBD are often used to reduce stress and manage anxiety because of their effect on the endocannabinoid system. While anxiety is a natural and important physical response, in more extreme cases such as those with acute anxiety or PTSD sufferers, CBD has proven to be 91% effective at reducing symptoms. Anxiety and depressive disorders are often cited by people with constant tinnitus symptoms as antagonists and so reducing these levels can also help reduce the perception of tinnitus.
Research Studies on CBD and Tinnitus
It has been proposed that endocannabinoid pathways might influence the underlying pathophysiology—the associated disordered physiological processes—of tinnitus. Despite the research showing that cannabinoid receptors influence auditory modulation, there is no conclusive evidence that they will alleviate tinnitus.
Research into the influence of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) on the auditory system is also ongoing and its functional role has not yet been mapped. Further research is needed to establish the relationship between cannabis and the ECS’s role in signaling pathways associated with tinnitus.
Some studies suggest cannabis may have a detrimental effect on acoustic-trauma-induced tinnitus—such as loud music or environmental exposure—but these studies focus on neural CB1R-based responses. More research needs to be done into the effects on CB2 receptors which are more prevalent in the immune system and TRP channels.
The main conclusion based on existing literature is that the relationship between tinnitus and cannabis is very complicated and we can conclude that physiological factors are likely more influential on symptoms.
Personal Testimonials and Anecdotal Evidence of CBD Treatment
Due to the complex nature of tinnitus and a lack of credible research into proven treatment, many people with tinnitus turn to cannabidiol and cannabis for self-treatment. Anecdotal evidence from users has been positive and 95% of patients in the 2023 study reported that they would consider cannabis treatment over conventional methods of antidepressants, anti-anxiolytics, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
One of the issues with conventional therapy, including sound masking, is the inherent cost of treatment and hearing aids. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also not widely available, and neither is it adequately funded by insurance or the public health system.
Among tinnitus patients, smoking or vaping is the most common delivery method with others preferring edibles and tablets.
For some sufferers whose symptoms cause problems with sleep, the relaxing and soothing properties of cannabis indica can be seen as a fast track to a good night’s sleep. Products like CBD/THC tinctures or King Harvest’s Unwind Gummies can provide a controlled dose therapy.
But for people who are highly sensitive to THC, the mental stimulation could end up keeping you awake for longer and in a quiet atmosphere your awareness of tinnitus may increase. Switching to CBD-infused gummies, cannabidiol-rich tinctures, or CBD flower before bed could be a better option.
CBD should help reduce anxiety and stress which are directly linked to tinnitus aggravation. Essentially, you will be able to fall asleep more easily without feeling “in your head” and being in a physically and mentally relaxed state.
Before self-managing your tinnitus symptoms, it is advisable to consider the anecdotal evidence alongside the existing scientific treatment. If in doubt, consult your doctor or medical practitioner. With the increase in medicinal cannabis use, availability, and acceptance within the medical field, it is becoming more common for patients to receive recommendations for cannabis treatment from medical professionals.
Does CBD Help Alleviate Tinnitus Symptoms?
While research evidence remains, inconclusive, cannabis and CBD continues to be preferred therapy among many tinnitus sufferers. Accessibility, cost, and a desire for natural treatment are highly motivating factors.
The potential for CBD and cannabis to alleviate tinnitus symptoms is very high. Thanks to its properties as an anti-inflammatory as well as its known benefits for calming anxiety and stress, it can help reduce sensitivity to tinnitus.
Clinical trials are needed to further understand the role of the endocannabinoid system in the auditory system and elaborate on anecdotal evidence.
As a chronic tinnitus sufferer, this writer can attest to the benefits of CBD for tinnitus, particularly when trying to fall asleep. And considering the lack of side effects associated with CBD consumption, it is well worth experimenting with. Start small with dosages and keep track of your sleep quality with a diary.