According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 39 million people suffer from migraines in the United States. Migraines are definitely a global problem too. It’s the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world with about 1 billion people suffering from this condition worldwide. Migraines aren’t simply a headache, they can be very debilitating and come with a host of other symptoms. As a matter of fact, according to the Migraine Research Foundation, “every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks.”
As you know, marijuana has been used and researched for pain management. Research shows that it may actually reduce headaches, by nearly half. However, before we get into the research, let’s look more into what migraines entail.
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What is a migraine?
Healthline describes migraines as neurological conditions characterized by intense, debilitating headaches. The main difference between a headache and a migraine is that a migraine typically has intense, throbbing, and pulsing pain while a headache tends to be mild and coupled with a dull pressure. Migraines also tend to be on one side of the head however as Healthline states it’s possible to have a migraine on both sides. On the other hand, headaches tend to be concentrated on the forehead and scalp.
In order to be diagnosed with a migraine, your doctor will ask you a bunch of questions and may undertake tests to rule out other causes.
Types of migraines
There are two main types of migraines, migraines with aura and migraines without aura.
According to another Healthline article, migraines with aura are those that cause visual disturbances or affects another one of your senses to warn you that a migraine is coming on. However an aura can also happen after the pain has started. The article said the person with the migraine may experience “see zig-zagging lines, lights that look like stars or dots, or even have a blind spot before your migraine starts [as well as] distorted vision or temporary loss of your vision.” Others may experience auras that affect other senses such as hearing, smell, and taste. For example, some may have ringing in the ears preceding a headache. These symptoms tend to last less than an hour.
On the other hand, migraine without aura according to Cleveland Clinic is the most common type of migraine and affects 85% of migraine sufferers. These migraines can last up to 72 hours and have their own set of warning signs. According to Healthline, these migraines may be accompanied by anxiety, depression, fatigue, feeling thirsty or sleepy, and craving sweets.
Other Types of Migraines
According to Healthline, the following are types of migraines:
- Chronic migraines- A mixture of migraines and tension headaches.
- Acute migraines
- Vestibular migraine
- Optical migraine is also known as eye migraine, ocular migraine, ophthalmic migraine, monocular migraine, and retinal migraine.
- Complex migraines
- Menstrual migraines
- Acephalgic migraine or migraine without headache
- Hormonal migraines
What causes migraines?
Scientists aren’t 100% sure what causes a migraine. However, what do they do know is that it seems to be genetic. In addition to that, according to Healthline, changes in brain chemicals could cause a migraine. One such change is a decrease in serotonin. However, migraines can be triggered by certain things such as dehydration, bright lights, smoking, alcohol, loud sounds and certain medication.
Symptoms of migraines
We touched on some of the symptoms but here is a list of some of the symptoms from Healthline:
- pulsating, throbbing, perforating, pounding, debilitating pain
- nausea and vomiting
- food cravings
- fatigue or low energy
- frequent yawning
- neck stiffness
- vision changes
- ringing in the ears
How cannabis can treat migraines and headaches
Unfortunately, migraines don’t have a cure. People who suffer from migraines undergo treatment options such as medication and avoiding triggers. Cannabis, according to new research may be a viable treatment option for migraines. The researchers admit that cannabis has been used to treat migraines but there weren’t a lot of studies done on it. As a matter of fact, they posit that cannabis has been used to treat headaches for thousands of years. Nowadays, around 36% of medical cannabis users use cannabis to treat headaches.
Results of the study
The study, which is titled “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Headache and Migraine” used anonymous data from medical cannabis users. The medical cannabis users used an app called Strainprint to track the effectiveness of cannabis to treat headaches and/or migraines. The study examined inhaled cannabis.
The researchers found that 89.9% of the participants reported a reduction in headache severity after most of the cannabis use sessions. 88.1% of participants also reported a reduction in migraine severity after many of the cannabis use sessions. The pain reduced significantly. The study said there was “a 47.3% decrease in headache severity and a 49.6% decrease in migraine severity were reported following cannabis use”. Cannabis even affected the perceived severity of the pain. The study mentioned the perceived severity of headache and migraine was reduced by nearly 50%.
The results section also said that cannabis use reduces migraine severity regardless of the type, dose, THC or CBD content. However, cannabis concentrates were related to larger reductions in headache than flower.
Why some people reported their conditions got worse and what that means
We know that more women than men experience migraines. However, the study stated that more women than men reported an exacerbation after using cannabis. In addition to that, researchers noted that “men reported larger reductions in headache severity following cannabis use than did women.” However, their explanation is that cannabis provides greater pain-numbing effects or analgesia in men than women. In addition to this, the differences were small. The study said, “with differences of only 1.1% and 1.8% in the percentage of men and women who reported headache exacerbation and reduction, respectively.”
Other important results
The researchers also found out that there were no significant changes in baseline severity of headaches or migraines across cannabis use sessions. This is good news because when migraine patients take conventional medicine, 15% of them develop medication overuse headaches. However, there seems to be evidence of tolerance. According to the study, “its (cannabis) effectiveness appears to diminish across time and patients appear to use larger doses across time, suggesting tolerance to these effects may develop with continued use.”
Limitations of the study
Some limitations of this study are:
- There was no control group and so it’s possible that some of the results are due to expectancy effects.
- There could be sample bias since there is likely an overrepresentation of people who already use cannabis for pain reduction of headaches and migraines. The people who don’t find it effective would have probably stopped using the app and or cannabis for treatment.
It should be noted that the participants didn’t know the results were being used for scientific study and so there is not a big chance the results were not purposefully skewed to make cannabis look good.
The results of the study are very promising and great news for millions of people who suffer migraines and headaches. Of course, more research will have to be done with a control group among other conditions to corroborate this study.