In the often-heated public debate over the potential health benefits of cannabis is the question over whether cannabis can alleviate — or even eliminate — the often painful and debilitating effects of migraines.
For centuries, cannabis has been used as a treatment for migraines. While there is plenty of anecdotal and historical evidence regarding the medical use of cannabis for this painful health condition, there remains a decided lack of scientific and clinical evidence to support any substantive claims.
What, then, is the link between marijuana and migraines?
What are Migraines?
Migraines are a type of headache. Unlike normal headaches, migraines manifest the following symptoms:
- They occur repeatedly.
- They are often accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to light.
- Oftentimes, migraine pain is a throbbing sensation felt on just one side of the head.
- Frequently, standard pain-relievers are not effective.
Unfortunately, the underlying cause(s) of migraines is still not completely understood.
- Approximately 1 in every 12 people — roughly 25 million Americans — suffer from migraines.
- 25% of people with migraines have four or more episodes a month.
- 35% of people with migraines have up to three severe migraines per month.
- An estimated 14% of females and 8% of males miss work due to migraines, a phenomenon which costs the US economy up to $17 billion annually in lost production.
Problems with Modern Medications
Unfortunately for the migraine sufferer, there are few options available.
- Most medications available have unpleasant side effects.
- A new class of drug, the triptans, were introduced approximately 20 years ago. Triptans act on certain serotonin receptors in the brain. However, triptans do have certain drawbacks:
- Triptans must be taken at the onset of a migraine.
- Triptans may cause sensations of cold and hot — and a feeling of weakness.
- Triptans may cause what is known as “serotonin syndrome,” a sensation described as “feeling strange.” Such side effects can be more pronounced in people with certain vulnerabilities, such as bipolar syndrome.
Marijuana and Migraines: Some Historical Background
There is a significant amount of historical evidence suggesting that there does, indeed, exist a therapeutic link between marijuana and migraines. Consider the following:
- For centuries, cannabis has been used as both a prophylactic and symptomatic treatment for migraines.
- In the nineteenth century, physicians in both Europe and North America recommended the use of cannabis to treat migraines.
- As late as 1941 (Three years after the US Government made cannabis possession a felony), the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended the use of cannabis to treat migraines.
- In the last 40 years, there have been a number of studies suggesting the use of cannabis as a treatment for pain relief.
Marijuana and Migraines: Recent Research
Unfortunately, there is a decided lack of scientific literature examining marijuana and migraines. Virtually all information available is anecdotal.
- One study, published back in 1987, suggests that people with migraines manifested headache symptoms only after they abruptly stopped using cannabis. It is possible that marijuana was, in effect, “masking” the pain of the migraines.
- A later study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, suggests a link between cannabis and triptans in preventing migraines.
- Just this year (2016), a pioneering clinical study suggests that marijuana does reduce the frequency of migraines:
- The study was conducted by the Skaggs School of Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Medical School and published in the May 2016 issue of Pharmacotherapy.
- The study involved studying cannabis use among 121 adult migraine patients between January 2010 and September 2014.
- Researchers found that for 103 (85%) of the patients, the monthly frequency of migraines decreased by an astonishing one-half, from 10 to 5 episodes.
Marijuana and Migraines
Regarding marijuana and migraines, cannabis is thought to have the following, beneficial properties:
- Cannabis has a long history of being used for the treatment and prophylaxis of migraines.
- Cannabis seems to possess an anti-emetic (i.e. an anti-vomiting) property.
- Cannabis appears to impact the nociceptive processes within the brain, particularly the serotonergic pathway in the brain (i.e. the receptors that help induce feelings of pleasure and well-being).
- Even if the exact relationship between marijuana and migraines is not exactly known, strong clinical evidence suggests that it is an effective pain reliever.
- A recent literature review of 38 random, controlled, published trials by the Headache Center at the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute showed that cannabinoids offered statistically-significant levels of pain relief.
A Few Words of Caution
Despite the generally-accepted benefits of cannabis, a few words of caution are in order. Consider the following:
- Keep in mind that the scientific and clinical literature regarding the implications of marijuana and migraines is virtually non-existent.
- There are over 400 active chemicals in cannabis, and their exact and precise impact upon the workings of the brain is, at this point, largely a matter of conjecture.
- Not all migraine sufferers respond the same to cannabis: While some individuals may feel genuine relief, others have been known to feel worse. When it comes to cannabis use, everyone responds differently. . .
- Remember: There are literally thousands of different strains of cannabis. While one strain may not work for you, try another. . .
- In timing your treatment, keep in mind that smoking cannabis will affect you sooner than ingesting
- If you use cannabis to treat migraines, try to use small doses at first. Why? Because if you smoke or ingest too much marijuana, you may be so stoned that you may not comprehend just what effect, if any, the cannabis has on your symptoms!
NOTE: This article does not constitute, or in any way offer or advocate, medical advice. Leafbuyer, LLC, its employees, and its agents assume no responsibility or liability for the information contained herein. The content of this article is meant for informational purposes only. Readers in need of medical advice should consult with a physician.