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Here's What Experts Know About Cannabis for Migraines

Posted on March 28 2019

With all the new uses for cannabis (and it’s ever-popular CBD counterpart) buzzing around, people are getting curious about how cannabis may be useful for them. Using cannabis for headaches is a top concern for researchers and migraine patients alike. For obvious reasons—headaches suck! Luckily, research shows that cannabis could help reduce the amount and the severity of headaches in people who suffer from frequent migraines or cluster headaches.

And really, cannabis for migraines isn’t all that new of a concept. Surviving historical documents depict the use of cannabis for headaches in Ancient Indian culture. Ancient Greecian physicians used cannabis externally and internally for pain and inflammation of the ear. Over time, there are hundreds of accounts of people using cannabis for some type of pain, including headache pain. There’s a chance that cannabis may be an effective therapy for headache conditions, and it may even have a leg up on some of the popular medications used to treat migraines. If you’re interested in using cannabis for migraines, here’s what we know (and what we don’t):


Studies Show Cannabis May Help With Pain

Studies show that the active components of cannabis may be generally useful for pain because of the way that it interacts with the Endocannabinoid System. By binding with certain neuro-receptors, cannabinoids may be able to block pain signals to prevent you from experiencing pain. One case study hoped to identify the position of therapeutic cannabis in patients with chronic pain. Of 15 patients who used cannabis therapeutically, 12 patients reported an improvement to pain levels and mood. 11 of 15 patients suffering from chronic pain reported that cannabis improved their sleep. Studies show that cannabis may be effective for managing different types of pain, including neuropathic pain, cancer pain, and more. In fact, most experts agree that chronic pain is the number one reason that people seek out medical marijuana.


Cannabis for Migraines and Cluster Headaches

Aside from the evidence that cannabis is generally useful for managing pain, there is some evidence that cannabis may be a good choice for people who suffer from frequent migraines, cluster headaches, or other headache-related conditions. One study at the University of Colorado included 121 participants that reported frequent migraines. This study showed that 40% of people experienced 50% fewer headaches each month when using cannabis. This study, however, was loosely controlled and some experts believe cannabis could be even more effective.

It’s hard for researchers to understand exactly how cannabis could affect headaches, especially since the cause of migraines and headaches isn’t fully understood itself. Some experts suggest that migraines and headaches could be caused by irregularities among neurotransmitters. Since cannabis is known to interact with the endocannabinoid system (which plays a main role in regulating many bodily processes) to directly impact neurotransmissions, experts believe there may be a direct link between cannabis and headaches. However, research has been stunted by the illegal status of the plant in most areas, and more research is needed to fully understand the role that cannabis may play in the treatment of headaches, migraines, or related conditions.


Is CBD a THC-free Alternative for Headaches?

Research has identified a link between the endocannabinoid and migraines, so there’s no surprise that CBD, another cannabis derivative, may have a positive impact on headaches as well. Research shows that CBD may have the same beneficial impact on pain, but there isn’t much research regarding CBD on its own for headaches. However, an Italian study led by Dr. Maria Nicolodi shows that a combination of CBD and THC may be just as effective as a popular migraine medication, amitriptyline. Furthermore, the study shows that the combination of cannabinoids provided a 43.5% decrease in pain intensity for subjects suffering from migraines. The same decrease in pain levels was seen in people with cluster headaches who had experienced migraines before.

Many people have used CBD for migraines with great success, and people are particularly drawn to this cannabis-derived method because of its lack of psychoactive effects. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t affect cognition, which may make it more suitable for some patients who need to use cannabis on the go to get relief.


Cannabis for Migraines vs Common Migraine Medications

There are several reasons why people may turn to cannabis for migraines and other headaches, but one popular reason is because of the lack of side effects associated with therapeutic cannabis use. There are some potential side effects, especially when you take too much, like anxiety, nausea, vomiting, or fatigue.

At very high doses, cannabis may cause symptoms of psychosis. However, many patients experience no adverse side effects at all. The most common side effects include mild symptoms, like dry mouth, reddened eyes, and increased appetite. Compared to the side effects listed on most migraine medications, the risks of cannabis when used correctly are seemingly mild. Of course, more studies are needed to understand the full impact and potential side effects of cannabis for migraines.

Some side effects related to popular migraine medication include chest tightening, insomnia, depression, weight gain, constipation, low blood pressure, decreased libido, and more. In comparison, many people prefer the side effect risks associated with cannabis.


Using and Dosing Cannabis for Migraines

When looking at cannabis as a therapeutic measure for headaches, it’s difficult to say what dose is necessary for every patient. Research shows that there is a wide variation of cannabis doses used by migraine sufferers. Dr. Nicolodi’s research included a trial period to establish the “best” dose for headaches. After starting at a dose of 10mg and increasing, the ideal dose (of the THC/CBD combination used) for treating headaches was found the be 100mg. The case study discussed previously may give a better representation of the wide dosing range. The study shows that patients used a range of 2-8 “puffs” of inhaled cannabis and varying frequencies of 1-16 times per day.

Dosing cannabis for headaches is more of a personal experience, as are the frequency, pattern, and severity of most headaches. If you are new to cannabis, you should always start with small doses to see how cannabis affects you. When using cannabis therapeutically, especially if you have existing health conditions or take prescription medications, you should always consult your doctor first. Your doctor will be able to help you more accurately consider your health condition, lifestyle, and tolerance for cannabis when choosing a dosing routine to manage headaches.

If you suffer from frequent headaches or migraines, cannabis may be an option. Despite the lack of research, many physicians are willing to help their patients try cannabis due to its low-risk profile. Like many patients, you may find that cannabis is a better solution for managing your recurring migraines or headache-related condition.

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