Research suggests cannabis may be effective for migraines. Photo credit: Envato.
A migraine is a neurological disease that is much more than a headache.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 12% of the U.S. population is affected by migraines. That’s nearly 40 million people, or the population of California. Additionally, more than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or perform daily tasks during a migraine.
There is a wide range of migraine symptoms, and they are often debilitating. Symptoms include throbbing or pounding head pain; sensitivity to light and sound; and nausea that can lead to vomiting, according to the American Migraine Foundation. A migraine attack can last anywhere from several hours to several days.
Treatment for migraines can be a difficult, sometimes unproductive process. There are multiple different tactics for treating migraines, which depend on the causes and triggers surrounding them. However, up and coming research proves that medical cannabis can be a possible treatment for migraines.
Medical Cannabis for Migraines — What Does the Science Say?
One 2017 clinical study in Italy found that a 200 mg cannabis oral tablet was just as effective as a 25 mg dose of amitriptyline. Amitriptyline is an anti-depressant and a pain medication commonly used to treat migraines.
Specifically, researchers found cannabis particularly effective at reducing head pain in sufferers with a history of migraines. According to a European Pharmaceutical Review article on the study, “when analyzing use in the treatment of acute pain, the researchers came across an interesting phenomenon: cannabinoids reduced pain intensity among migraine patients by 43.5%.”
Another study, conducted between 2016 and 2019, concluded that 94% of participants experienced symptom relief when using cannabis.
In the Journal of Integrative Medicine-published study, researchers asked participants to rate the severity of their migraine symptoms on a scale of one to 10 — 10 being the most severe. Researchers then compared scores before and after cannabis consumption. They found that the severity of migraine attack symptoms dropped an average of 3.3 points after two hours.
Additionally, researchers also found that cannabis was most effective at improving symptoms whenTHC levels were above 10%.
From this data the study concluded that cannabis significantly eases migraine pain and may be a holistic alternative to migraine treatment.
How Might Cannabis Improve Neurological Conditions?
Cannabis is a neuroprotectant, meaning it preserves the neuronal structure and function of the brain, according to one 2017 study. Additionally, cannabinoids have antioxidant properties that can alleviate neurological symptoms.
Research has discovered that as a neuroprotectant, cannabis may prevent neurological damage from a variety of health conditions, including seizures and strokes.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Jim Polston, “there is mounting evidence that the endocannabinoid system [ECS] can directly reduce migraine pain when activated by naturally produced cannabinoids or medical cannabis taken by patients,” he tells Leafly.
The ECS is responsible for sensory pain, which is directly associated with migraines. Cannabis reduces inflammation and minimizes releases of pro-inflammatory particles in the dura mater tissue. The tissue protects the outside of the brain, targeting the onset of a migraine, Polston explains further.
Is one Method More Effective Than Another?
In terms of delivery, Poslton suggests trying out oral cannabis medicine before inhalation methods. Things like tinctures, pills or tablets offer a more discrete method that also avoids smoking for patients.
However, a lot of patients have found that inhaling cannabis is a faster pain relief compared to a digestible tablet. But anecdotal evidence shows a variety of methods can be helpful. For example, a research review conducted by the CBD watchdog, Leafreport, revealed that:
- “In one 2020 study, 94% of 699 study participants who smoked or vaped whole dried cannabis flower saw an improvement in headaches and migraines.”
- “In a 2016 study, 85.1% of the 121 study participants who [used] inhaled, edible, or topical cannabis products experienced fewer migraines and some were able to stop migraine attacks when they happened.”
One patient, Lynn Crisci, found that vaping provides her with the greatest relief. “I prefer vaporizing cannabis oil, preferably in a vape pen,” she tells Leafly. “Vape pens allow me to microdose and control exactly how much medicine I am ingesting, while avoiding inhaling smoke into my lungs.”
“I use cannabis both as a prophylactic, to prevent migraines by reducing stress and relaxing muscles, and as a rescue remedy once migraine hits, to reduce intense pain and nausea,” Crisci added.
Not all cannabis products can be beneficial for sufferers, Christy Caballero — who has battled chronic migraines for 30 years — explains in Medical Jane. For Caballero, like many, foods like nuts, soy, and wheat can trigger a migraine. Consequently, she suggests sufferers be wary of what edibles they take, and opt for those that cater to dietary restrictions.
While more research is needed on medical cannabis for migraine treatment, use of the plant in its different forms proves promising.