Medical Marijuana and Migraines
Migraines are throbbing headaches that occur on a regular basis and often affect one side of the head more than the other and are paired with disturbed vision and/or nausea. Those who suffer from migraines are usually afflicted with them in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood and find they persist throughout their lives.
Symptoms of Migraines
Typical migraines progress through four stages though not all patients will experience this. The prodrome stage occurs a day or two before the migraine and involves subtle symptoms like food cravings, neck stiffness, mood changes, and frequent yawning. The aura stage can occur before or during the migraine and usually includes symptoms like vision loss, hearing noises, flashes of light, a pins and needles sensation, or uncontrollable movements. The attack phase can last up to 72 hours if untreated and can include pain that throbs or pulses, sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting.
How Does Marijuana Help With Migraines?
Though it’s unknown exactly how migraines occur, many scientists and doctors believe the release of pro-inflammatory substances into the brain tissue is a major culprit. Cannabis works to reduce these substances by reducing inflammation and attaching to endocannabinoid receptors in the brain to decrease pain and increase the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin.
Another likely cause is a deficiency in the cannabinoid anandamide. THC, the chemical compound in marijuana responsible for its psychoactive effects, has a very similar structure to anandamide and can bind to the same receptors. By mimicking anandamide, it addresses the deficiency and reduces migraine symptoms.
Medical marijuana can also treat many of the associated symptoms of migraines such as high levels of stress, anxiety, inability to sleep, and depression. It can also be a replacement for opioids, which are highly addictive and can have a number of negative side effects. A study published in Neurology found that fifty percent of those who were on opioid medications for migraines were able to reduce their use when they began using medical marijuana.
Methods of Marijuana to Treat Migraines
Most of those who use medical cannabis to treat migraines find that oral administration or inhalation delivery methods work the best due to the fast action in reducing pain. However, because of the complexity of migraines and how they affect people differently, these should not be seen as the only forms of marijuana that are effective treatments. Some prefer putting a lotion or oil on their neck or heads, while others like the discretion of taking a pill or eating a gummy or mint.
When to Use Marijuana to Treat Migraines
Scientists and doctors are still studying how much, how, and when to dose to best treat migraines with medical marijuana. The most valuable information comes from those who are already using it as a treatment option. Many patients use medical cannabis as both a way to prevent migraines and treat them once the attack phase happens. Using marijuana before an attack can reduce stress and relax muscles, which can prevent an attack or lessen the severity of it. When dosing in this manner, it’s important to take the marijuana when first experiencing symptoms in the prodrome phase.
Medical cannabis can also be an effective treatment once the attack phase has started. Its anti-inflammatory properties and uses as an antiemetic and pain-reducer make it an effective alternative to opioids and other prescription medications that can have a host of negative side effects.
The Best Cannabinoids for Migraines
The two best-known cannabinoids in marijuana are THC and CBD. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis while CBD is normally seen as the most beneficial for medicinal purposes. In most of the research done, it’s been determined that those with migraines usually respond best to a hybrid strain that combines high THC with low CBD due to the anti-inflammatory, antiemetic and analgesic properties of THC. Those who do not like to feel high when suffering from a migraine, though, should opt for high CBD strains that can still effectively reduce pain levels and allow the sufferer to relax and rest until the migraine has passed.
Individual migraines are different, as are the sufferers’ responses to cannabinoids and marijuana in general. While a high THC strain may work for some, it may not for others. The only way to know what type of strain, method, and manner of dosing that works for an individual is by experimenting.