Imagine trying to get through your day when suddenly you are struck with a blinding pain in your head and a severe sensitivity to even the slightest noise or sensation. Compound this with nausea, dizziness, and numbness in your face, and you can begin to understand the various symptoms experienced by those who suffer from migraines.
In the U.S. alone nearly 38 million people are affected by migraines, and many report that not only are they chronic, but they can also last for days at a time. Several categories of drugs that reduce these symptoms are available, and although they have been deemed safe for treatment, they can cause debilitating side effects such as weakness, dizziness, and stomach bleeding. As research continues into the cause of these neurological attacks, some migraine sufferers have considered other forms of active treatment and prevention specifically targeted at reducing both the amount of pain felt and the regularity of occurrence. One of the more effective methods that has recently come to light is the use of small doses of cannabis, which appears to mimic our bodies’ own endogenous chemicals in the brain. So, this begs the question: should medical cannabis be used to treat migraines?
There are several pharmaceutical options for treating migraines and their devastating consequences. The two main medications that are prescribed for migraine abatement, triptans and ergots, effectively reduce pain while allowing you to regain focus and manage increased aural/light sensitivity. They are able to do this by constricting and blocking the pain pathways in your brain, thus providing relief. There are drawbacks to these drugs, though, and one of them is that neither treats nausea (a common migraine symptom), so they both need to be taken in conjunction with an anti-nausea medication. Additionally, as with most medications, you can experience side effects ranging in severity from drowsiness and muscle exhaustion to increased vomiting. There are also over-the-counter options available, but they have shown little efficacy in addressing the more intense cases and, in large quantities over long periods of time, have been linked to ulcers and stomach bleeding. Contemplating all of this, it is worth considering the benefit and effectiveness of cannabis for migraine treatment.
Cannabis has been shown to possess analgesic properties that mask the pain caused by a migraine headache by mimicking the brain’s own chemicals that minimize the rate at which harmful signals are received. Cannabis is processed by the neurotransmitter system, which means that “only noxious or painful signals are blocked,” while other signals are administered normally. Much like the synthetic migraine medications, cannabis modulates signals sent by the brain to the spinal cord, therefore decreasing the overall amount of pain that is felt without causing serious side effects.
Endocannabinoids also activate receptors in the brainstem that promote pain relief and act as a mechanism for dulling the effects of the neurological attack. A recent study conducted by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus further supports the use of cannabis as a treatment for migraines. The researchers found evidence that suggests cannabis can even reduce the frequency of migraines in participants, noting that migraines were reduced from over ten a month to less than five a month. A majority of participants—103 out of 121—reported a decrease in migraines overall. The noticeable results stemmed from both inhalation and ingestion of cannabis, though more immediate relief was felt via inhalation due to the delay in uptake from edibles. THC is particularly effective in crossing the blood-brain barrier. Inhaled THC undergoes a different metabolic process than when ingested because rather than passing through the stomach and liver, the THC travels directly to the brain. Researchers conducting the study believe that the diminution in pain levels and frequency could also be linked to serotonin and cannabinoids, which interact with the chemicals in cannabis in a natural biological process. The gains do not stop at migraines, either; other studies have revealed cannabis’s positive effect in treating mental health issues as well as neurodegenerative diseases.
Patient experience and clinical research show that both the pharmaceutical and cannabis-based medications can provide relief from the symptoms of a migraine headache. Combined with other medications aimed at treating related symptoms such as nausea and dizziness, the pharmaceutical options are fairly effective despite associated adverse side effects. Yet, as research continues to grow in the field of medical cannabis, due to the easing of laws and classifications, so does the availability of its practical applications. The studies mentioned above show that cannabis helps with both the treatment and ultimate prevention of migraines, helping to relieve symptoms during a migraine episode and reducing the frequency of migraines. This is contrary to the prescription options, which are generally more effective if taken previous to the onset of the initial pain and must be taken more often because their effects are not often long-lasting. Another reported benefit of medical cannabis is that the chemical structure of the plant itself interacts with the systems and chemicals in the human body in a natural way, so it does not disrupt major biological processes in any form. The use of cannabis in treating migraines is only one small step in the advancement of cannabis as an effective medical treatment option, and there is a lot left to be studied in regards to the breadth of its impact. Hopefully, as the availability of resources and legal acceptance expands, researchers will be able to study the advantageous aspects of cannabis and the ways in which it can treat issues within the brain, including migraines.
So if you’re burdened by chronic and critical migraines, you should consider cannabis as a viable resource, especially as its use in medicine is growing increasingly more accepted and available. Start by talking with a medical cannabis doctor to get detailed information on how to use cannabis to treat your migraines, including dosage and administration methods. (Not sure how to find a cannabis doctor near you? Get in touch with us.)
Have you or someone you know used cannabis as an alternative to other migraine medications? Share your experiences in the comments below.