For many people, a “migraine” is simply a bad headache…
But for sufferers, a migraine is an intense, sometimes traumatic, sometimes days-long episode which can include everything from feeling like you’re about to vomit to poor balance, blurred vision and sensitivity to light and sound – all on top of an incredibly painful headache!
There are prescription drugs available for migraines. But few of these are truly effective – and none of them works for everybody.
That’s why – with the increasing focus on medical cannabis as a potential cure for all kinds of pains and ailments – many people have experimented with taking their medical marijuana for migraines and related symptoms.
Currently, there is no hard and fast scientific proof that marijuana and migraines might soon be an automatic pairing of problem and cure.
Yet there is certainly room for more studies to be done on the topic:
Why taking cannabis for migraines might work
The cannabis plant contains more than 113 types of cannabinoid. These are natural compounds found within the plant.
When you ingest any active cannabinoids (activating them usually requires a heat source and a process called decarboxylation), they interact with the endocannabinoid system in your body and can create a range of effects.
When it comes to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, these effects might include:
- Pain reduction – several studies, including one published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, have shown that marijuana might have a beneficial effect for pain sufferers, particularly people who have arthritis and other kinds of joint pain.
- Anti-emetic (anti-nausea) – certain strains of medical marijuana have been suggested to have anti-emetic properties.
- Anti-inflammatory – taking certain quantities of the two most famous types of cannabinoid (THC and CBD, see below) may lead to lower levels of inflammation, a study by the University of South Carolina found. – the same study indicated that some doses of a certain concentration of THC might improve the quality of sleep in some cases.
Your body naturally creates endocannabinoids which interact with your endocannabinoid system’s receptors.
The cannabinoids from cannabis act as either boosters (endocannabinoid agonists, which enhance the effects of the endocannabinoid) or suppressors (endocannabinoid antagonists, which inhibit endocannabinoid effects).
There are at least two types of cannabinoid you will almost certainly have heard of:
1) THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)
THC is responsible for most of the psychoactive effects produced when ingesting marijuana, though other parts of the plant have their roles to play.
2) CBD (cannabidiol)
Cannabidiol has no psychoactive and is not addictive in any way. A great deal of recent medical research on the beneficial effects of marijuana has been done on CBD.
In fact, the only – at time of writing – cannabis medication approved by the FDA is a type of CBD concentrate called Epidiolex. This has been approved for treating two types of medication-resistant epilepsy.
Likely because of the extra knowledge of CBD’s properties and effects – and because it does not create any psychoactive effect – CBD is legal in more states than have legalized medical marijuana.
Does it actually work? Is there any evidence?
There is some evidence that marijuana may affect the human body’s endocannabinoid system in a way which might reduce symptoms of pain and reduce inflammation.
There is also some evidence which may indicate that some illnesses – even chronic ones – may be caused by a lack of endocannabinoids. This may mean that cannabinoids which function as endocannabinoid agonists may have a beneficial role to play.
But despite this small amount of evidence and a large number of anecdotal accounts, there is no clear scientific conclusion that marijuana is good for migraines. There is certainly no current recommendations for doses or timing of doses to produce a beneficial effect.
However, there are some studies which can be looked at:
Studies – the example of Colorado
A study on migraines and cannabis, which is usually cited, is one conducted by the University of Colorado.
This study consisted of 121 regular migraine sufferers who took marijuana daily for the duration of the study. The results seemed to show that:
- Around 20% of participants said it decreased the number of migraines they suffered
- Around 12% noticed some improvement in their acute migraines
- Around 12% also experienced side-effects such as tiredness and unwanted psychoactive effects during daytime
- Edibles appeared to work less well than inhalation methods
- Inhalation methods also seemed to limit other negative side-effects
Studies – issues to be overcome
If it is confirmed that some types of migraine might be eased through the use of certain types of marijuana, various factors need to be eliminated, isolated or governed in future studies:
- Type or strain of cannabis – various strains of cannabis have different quantities of active ingredients and, because of this, are known for producing certain effects and side-effects.
- Concentration of active ingredients – the strength of different active ingredients within any given strain or concentrate needs to be monitored to see how they affect results.
- Type of migraine – migraines can be caused by several different medical problems. The underlying cause may affect whether marijuana can be an effective treatment.
- Method of ingestion – smoking the raw cannabis plant, taking CBD or THC in various concentrations in an oil, via vaping, in a tincture or via an edible. The number of different ways cannabis – or parts of the cannabis plant – can be ingested are numerous. Some may prove to be better than others when it comes to migraine treatment.
Why might marijuana and migraines not be good bedfellows?
Marijuana may produce pain relief and relieve other symptoms associated with migraines.
Yet it can also produce side-effects which may exacerbate a person’s condition, or relieve one aspect of their pain or discomfort while enhancing another.
Common cannabis side-effects which may not be beneficial when you are suffering from a migraine include:
In some cases – after chronic daily use – stopping using marijuana can actually cause headaches. This makes carefully considering your dose vital if you plan to use your medical marijuana in this way.
Which are the best marijuana strains for migraines?
If you’re convinced that cannabis might be the solution to your migraine blues, it’s useful to know what are commonly considered the leading marijuana strains for migraines.
There are no real fixed results on this. No study has so far produced data to support any particular strain. But the popular wisdom suggests that the following might be good choices:
- Purple Kush – is an indica strain known for the slightly numbing sensation it can create in those using it. It is often preferred by people looking to get a good night’s rest in addition to relief from their migraine.
- OG Kush – this is a classic suggestion for migraine relief thanks to its high THC levels.
- White Widow – wondering whether to take indica or sativa for migraines? Do both! Holland’s finest, White Widow is an indica-sativa hybrid. This creates a combined effect which is both relaxing and mildly uplifting for users.
- Harlequin – is known for producing less of the sleepy side-effects often associated with other strands of cannabis. This makes it more suitable for taking during the day – as long as you have no plans to drive or anything of the kind!
- Chocholope – another solid option for taking during the hours of daylight when you don’t want to risk being tired or sleepy during your standard activities, Chocholope is sometimes said to create a more enervating feeling than other strains.
Of course, when you’re looking for marijuana for migraine treatment, you’re likely to mainly be interested in the quantity and quality of relief they provide. This will be directly related to the quantities of cannabinoids they contain.
Discerning how effective a particular strain is going to be is always easier when you know precisely what is inside. For this reason, you’ll want to check the label of any product you by from your dispensary to see what it contains.
In addition, cannabis concentrates are an ideal source of potent cannabinoids. They almost always contain much greater concentrations of cannabinoids than the raw plant material (hence the name).
Plus, they can be taken in ways which make it easier to control your dose, such as vaping or orally.
Can you get medical marijuana for migraines?
If you are considering taking medical marijuana for migraines, the final important factor is to discover whether it is legal in the state you live in:
In some states – such as Arizona – it is legal to buy, own, be in possession of a certain amount of and even grow your own marijuana in certain conditions. You need to be fully conversant with the law though – and these vary dramatically depending on which state you’re in.
You should also, of course, check your employer’s policy on medical marijuana use and how you may be tested. This is important. Because marijuana, medical or otherwise, can still be detected in your body for a month and more after your last use.
Cannabidiol tends to be more legal in most states for medical purposes. If you suspect that CBD might be worth trying to ease your migraines, you’ll need to check the legality there too.
Finally, your first step should always be to consult a professional. Taking cannabis for migraines you suffer from might be worth a try. It’s your doctor who’ll usually be in the best position to know.