Some see the cannabis compound as a key to tinnitus relief, but not so fast!
Hissing, clicking, roaring, or ringing in ears. Head noises that can interfere with everyday activities. Tinnitus, which as a chronic issue affects an estimated 8% to 25% of the global population, can take a toll on quality of life. Whether mildly annoying, somewhat burdensome, or — for a significant subset of people — downright debilitating, the condition can bring an unwelcome dimension to daily life.
But is cannabidiol (CBD) the answer some people think it is? The natural chemical, one of more than 100 compounds within the cannabis plant, has been touted as a possible medical solution or aid for a gamut of conditions and most commonly has been used for issues such as pain. The health claims, however, aren’t always backed by the facts.
Unlike the cannabis compound tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, CBD doesn’t create a psychoactive sensation or high. Selected CBD or products containing CBD are legalized in Canada and parts of the U.S. as of this writing, but there are regulations and restrictions. Read on for a closer look at tinnitus and the hype around using CBD to address it.
What is tinnitus? Most people have never even heard of it, but tinnitus is more common than many realize. It’s not a disease. Rather, it’s a medical condition generally characterized by noises in the ear or head that usually can be heard only by the person experiencing the sounds. Ringing, buzzing, humming, clicking, or swooshing might be described, and, more rarely, some may even perceive musical notes.
In some cases, the ringing in the ears can be heard by an impartial observer — the person’s doctor, for example. This is referred to as “objective tinnitus” and is much less common than the more typical “subjective” version, in which only the person with the condition can perceive the sounds. Most people don’t experience objective tinnitus, which reportedly comprises under 1% of tinnitus cases.
Tinnitus appears to be most common in people between 40 and 80 but can affect all ages. It can eventually resolve on its own or at least lessen in intensity. For many, however, it’s chronic — lasting three or more months. The condition can affect the ability to think and focus and can impact mood and mental health, at times potentially resulting in anxiety or depression.
Tinnitus may occur in one or both ears and generally comes in two forms, pulsatile and nonpulsatile:
- Pulsatile tinnitus is caused when sounds are generated through the movement of muscles close to the ear. It can result from other reasons as well, such as changes in blood flow.
- Nonpulsatile tinnitus often results from problems with the structures in the inner ear, associated with hearing.
Determining the type of tinnitus involved can play a role in uncovering the cause.
Tinnitus can have a number of different causes. It’s typically considered a symptom or sign of another issue, making it all the more important to seek an evaluation.
Some potential causes include:
- Hearing loss
- Effects of excess noise exposure
- Wax buildup in the ear
- Medications such as antibiotics
- Ear infections
- Head injuries
- Dental problems
- Blood vessel disorders
A comprehensive exam can help shed light on any underlying issues, inform a treatment plan, and include potential referral to a specialist if needed to address a medical matter contributing to the tinnitus.
Stress could also be a factor in tinnitus. Whether stress can lead to the condition or the other way around may not be entirely conclusive. What is clear, however, is that stress may be a risk factor that warrants greater attention when diagnosing and treating tinnitus — with as early an intervention as possible.
In one study of 180 men and women living with chronic subjective tinnitus, researchers uncovered interesting findings while assessing the presence of stress and its correlation with tinnitus’s impact on daily life.
Among the outcomes, investigators learned that:
- A majority of the investigation participants — 65% — had symptoms of stress.
- Increased stress levels seemed to pair with higher levels of perceived tinnitus difficulty.
- Tinnitus may serve as an alarm signaling the need to manage contributors to stress.
The study, published in 2018, stopped short of concluding whether tinnitus precedes stress or vice versa. It does, however, point to a close relationship between the two conditions and the potential need for stress evaluation and management strategies attendant with a tinnitus diagnosis.
Tinnitus can be effectively managed. Depending on the underlying cause, addressing the problem may include approaches ranging from earwax removal, hearing aids, or sound devices to medication adjustments, lifestyle changes, or interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Other types of counseling, such as sleep, cognitive behavioral therapy, or relaxation methods, can also play an important role in helping someone manage tinnitus symptoms by reducing the stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness often associated with the condition.
Relief might also involve habituation, in which the brain adapts to tinnitus such that symptoms are significantly less bothersome. Sound therapy can play a role in that approach. In certain situations, surgery recommended to correct an underlying issue — an acoustic neuroma or benign tumor along a hearing nerve, for example — may help resolve tinnitus symptoms.
Some have looked to CBD for tinnitus relief. Online search results show an array of CBD products — especially in the form of gummies or oil — promoted as a tinnitus cure or a solution to stop symptoms, but no conclusive evidence at this juncture necessarily supports the claims.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A 2020-released study that reviewed several prior investigations found, for example, “no compelling data either from animal or human studies for the use of cannabinoids to alleviate tinnitus.”
Research has even pointed to potentially adverse effects of CBD on tinnitus. A 2015-released report involving rats found that a mix of the cannabinoids CBD and THC might actually exacerbate tinnitus symptoms.
Still, other research, such as the 2020-released report, “Cannabinoids, Inner Ear, Hearing, and Tinnitus: A Neuroimmunological Perspective,” points to the possibility that CBD’s neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties might offer therapeutic value in future trials. For now, the jury’s out.
8 Fast Facts About Tinnitus
- With tinnitus often linked to excess noise, reduced exposure and hearing protection are critical.
- An overwhelming share of tinnitus cases — 90% — develop in concert with hearing loss.
- Musicians are at 57% greater risk of tinnitus than the general population.
- Most instances of tinnitus can be managed so that it’s less of a distraction in everyday life.
- Science is on the case with continuing research.
- On a global scale, tinnitus spans all ages, including over 740 million adults.
- An estimated 16 million people each year reach out for medical help regarding tinnitus.
- The majority of people who report tinnitus as a major challenge in their lives are 65 or older.
Science will continue exploring the possibilities of CBD in addressing tinnitus and other conditions. In the meantime, it’s important to avoid unproven treatments that could do more harm than good. If you or a loved one is experiencing tinnitus symptoms, relief could be just an appointment away, so don’t wait. Contact our caring team for information today!