Cannabis is lately becoming the panacea for a plethora of ailments, with the various cannabinoids including CBD and THC possessing incredibly beneficial effects for a wide variety of conditions such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar, fibromyalgia, arthritis, cancer and even epilepsy. With cannabis becoming more widely recognised for its usefulness in treating varying mental conditions, we asked the question: does cannabis help for headaches and migraines?
For the purpose of clarity, the terms “cannabis” and “medical marijuana” can be used interchangeably, as both imply a plant preparation that contains both THC and CBD. Hemp, on the other hand, is a variety of the cannabis plant that contains extremely low levels of THC and high levels of CBD and is the source of most CBD oil preparations.
Does Cannabis Help for Headaches and Migraines?
While there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support the case, there isn’t much in the way of clinical trials that have looked into this issue. So, what we’ve done is analyse as much of the published research as we can find so as to present you with a reasonably unbiased point of view that is based on scientific research. One of our first ports of call is the archive of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health.
The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders View Research Paper
This review considers historical prescription practices, summarizes the existing reports on the use of cannabis for headache, and examines the preclinical literature exploring the role of exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids to alter headache pathophysiology.
Each year, ∼47% of the population experience headache, including migraine (10%), tension-type headache (38%), and chronic daily headache (3%). A sexual dimorphism exists for headache disorders, with women 2–3 times more likely to experience migraine and 1.25 times more likely to experience tension-type headache than men.
Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid mimicking tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to decrease analgesic intake while reducing Medication Overuse Headache (MOH) pain in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. In this study, 26 patients with treatment refractory MOH completed a course of either nabilone (0.5 mg) or ibuprofen (400 mg) for 8 weeks, then after a week-long washout period, completed a second 8-week course of the previously excluded medication… Although both substances showed improvement from baseline, nabilone was significantly more effective than ibuprofen in reducing pain intensity, analgesic intake, and medication dependence, as well as in improving quality of life.
Currently, a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled study is being performed to examine the safety and efficacy of a dronabinol, or synthetic THC, metered dose inhaler for the treatment of migraine.
Many individuals are currently using cannabis for the treatment of migraine and headache with positive results. In a survey of nine California clinics, physicians recorded headaches and migraines as a reason for approving a medical marijuana ID card in 2.7% of cases, and 40.7% patients self-reported that cannabis had therapeutic benefits for headaches and migraines. In another California survey of 7525 patients, 8.43% of patients reported that they were using medical cannabis to treat migraines. Another survey of 1430 patients found that 9% of patients were using medical cannabis to treat migraines.
Other studies have looked specifically at the change in the occurrence of headache disorders with use of cannabis. One retrospective study described 121 patients who received cannabis for migraine treatment, among whom 85.1% of these patients reported a reduction in migraine frequency.
Although placebo-controlled clinical trials are still needed to appropriately determine efficacy, it appears likely that cannabis will emerge as a potential treatment for some headache sufferers.
While acknowledging that more rigorous clinical testing is required, this paper indicates fairly unambiguously that THC and its synthetic derivatives have a beneficial effect in the treatment of headaches and migraines, interestingly also admitting that it found no available information on the use of CBD as a treatment.
Our next featured study comes from the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.
Cannabis for migraine treatment: the once and future prescription? View Research Paper
…an article entitled ‘Marijuana and Migraine’ presented three cases in which abrupt cessation of frequent, prolonged, daily marijuana smoking were followed by migraine attacks. One patient noted subsequent remission of headaches with episodic marijuana use, while conventional drugs successfully treated the others. The author hypothesized that THC’s peripheral vasoconstrictive actions in rats, or its action to minimize serotonin release from the platelets of human migraineurs, might explain its actions.
- Cannabis, whether ingested or smoked, has a long history of reportedly safe and effective use in the treatment and prophylaxis of migraine.
- Cannabis has a mild but definite analgesic effect in its own right.
- Cannabis seems to affect nociceptive processes in the brain, and may interact with serotonergic and other pathways implicated in migraine.
- Cannabis is reportedly an effective anti-emetic, a useful property in migraine treatment.
- Cannabis, even when abused, has mild addiction potential, and seems to be safe in moderate doses, particularly under the supervision of a physician.
- Cannabis’ primary problem as a medicine lies in its possible pulmonary effects, which seem to be minimal in occasional, intermittent use.
- Cannabis, when inhaled, is rapidly active, obviates the need for gastrointestinal absorption (impaired markedly in migraine), and may be titrated to the medical requirement of the patient for symptomatic relief.
- Cannabis delivered by pyrolysis in the form a marijuana cigarette, or ‘joint’, presents the hypothetical potential for quick, effective parenteral treatment of acute migraine.
In another research paper from the archive of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health, we find more information
Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population. View Research Paper
No clinical trials are currently available that demonstrate the effects of marijuana on patients with migraine headache; however, the potential effects of cannabinoids on serotonin in the central nervous system indicate that marijuana may be a therapeutic alternative.
The primary outcome was number of migraine headaches per month with medical marijuana use.
Migraine headache frequency decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month (p<0.0001) with the use of medical marijuana. Most patients used more than one form of marijuana and used it daily for prevention of migraine headache. Positive effects were reported in 48 patients (39.7%), with the most common effects reported being prevention of migraine headache with decreased frequency of migraine headache (24 patients [19.8%]) and aborted migraine headache (14 patients [11.6%]). Inhaled forms of marijuana were commonly used for acute migraine treatment and were reported to abort migraine headache.
The frequency of migraine headache was decreased with medical marijuana use. Prospective studies should be conducted to explore a cause-and-effect relationship and the use of different strains, formulations, and doses of marijuana to better understand the effects of medical marijuana on migraine headache treatment and prophylaxis.
Under-the-Counter Migraine Remedies View Article
Does It Work for Migraines? There’s not a lot of research on this. In a study at the University of Colorado, 121 people who got regular migraine headaches used marijuana daily to prevent attacks. About 40% of them said the number of migraine headaches they got each month was cut in half.
The people used different types of marijuana, but they mostly inhaled it to ease a migraine in progress and found that it did help stop the pain. Edible products didn’t seem to work as well.
The people who inhaled or smoked marijuana also said it was easier to control the amount of the drug they took in, and they had fewer negative reactions.
According to the limited research available, cannabis does appear to be a useful treatment for migraines and headaches, with THC-rich preparations being favoured over CBD only. There have been a few sporadic reports of CBD users suspecting that the supplement actually may be the cause of their headaches, however, this does not appear to be the case in general.