Marijuana for Migraine Treatment

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Marijuana has been considered a possible treatment option for many medical conditions, including migraines. However, at the current time, research hasn't proven whether marijuana is effective in treating these painful episodes.

There is some evidence suggesting that it might help in migraine treatment and prevention, but it isn't clear if there is a safe or recommended dose, and whether there may be a certain type of migraine that is more likely to improve with cannabis treatment. And, of course, the legality of access and use is under debate in many areas.

Chemical Components of Marijuana

Two of marijuana's active ingredients, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—termed cannabinoids—induce a variety of effects.

THC is associated with psychogenic effects and the feeling of being "high," although it is not the only component of marijuana for which this is true. CBD, which does not induce altered perception or a sensation of being high, slows down activity in the brain. A form of CBD, Epidiolex, has been approved for treatment of certain types of epilepsy.

In learning about medicinal benefits of these chemicals, you'll hear two terms that are worthy of distinction: Marijuana refers to the hallucinogenic drug (which is usually smoked) known to induce a "high" and a state of euphoria and relaxation, as well as altered perception. It is just one form of Cannabis, the plant that marijuana comes from.

When it comes to marijuana and migraines, research is fairly new, and some studies use forms of marijuana, while others use the cannabis plant, CBD, or THC, making it difficult to interpret results.

Marijuana/Migraine Research

Overall, there have been small studies suggesting improvement of migraines or other types of headaches. Medical research about the effects of marijuana uses a variety of components of the plant, as well as a variety of formulations, some of which are ingested in pill form, taken as a liquid oil, or inhaled.

One of the larger studies included 121 adult participants who had migraines. They used migraine medications along with several forms of medical marijuana, including an edible and an inhaled form. Of this group of participants, 19.8 percent experienced a decrease in migraine frequency, 11.6 percent experienced improvement of acute migraine attacks, and 11.6 percent experienced side effects. The most common side effects were tiredness and difficulty controlling the timing and intensity of marijuana.

While these results suggest that marijuana can be helpful for some people with migraines, there are many unanswered questions. For example, the target dose and timing are important issues that need to be defined.

Patterns of response that could identify which type of migraine is most likely to improve with medical marijuana need to be established.

Experts note that the current information about marijuana's effects on migraine is limited, and well-designed studies including larger numbers of participants are needed to reach a conclusion.

How It Might Work

The body naturally makes endocannabinoids, which bind to endocannabinoid receptors located in the brain and throughout the body. Cannabinoids bind to these receptors, and some components of marijuana work as endocannabinoid agonists (augmenting cannabinoid effects), while others act as antagonists (inhibiting cannabinoid effects).

There is some evidence that cannabinoids may reduce inflammation and diminish pain, and CBD is the component believed to modulate these effects. The ways that endocannabinoids are understood to affect the body, as well as some preliminary research results and anecdotal reports, support a call for properly designed clinical trials that set out to determine whether there's a beneficial real-world effect on headache disorders like migraine, according to a 2017 review published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Evidence also suggests that endocannabinoid deficiency may be a factor in some chronic illnesses, including fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and that cannabinoids could play a role in reducing symptoms of these conditions. This is the leading explanation for why migraine is considered among the conditions that may improve with medical marijuana.

Side Effects

Marijuana has several known long-term side effects, including apathy, reduced problem-solving ability, lowered intelligence quotient (IQ), memory loss, lung cancer, and the potential to induce addiction. Marijuana overdose may cause different effects, including hallucinations, psychosis, and heart rhythm abnormalities.

Daily use can lead to a rare but serious syndrome known as reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS), which is associated with a headache. Rebound headaches may occur upon stopping marijuana after chronic, daily use.

Controversies and Access

There is a degree of controversy about the use of marijuana for headaches and other medical conditions. Advocacy groups propose more access as legislators work through the issues that differentiate recreational from medical use. State and federal governments have created laws expanding recreational and medical use. New policies have also decreased some of the regulatory restrictions on marijuana research. The scientific and medical communities are evaluating available evidence to determine safety and efficacy.

A Word From Verywell

Marijuana's potential as a therapy for migraines is emerging. Right now, there are anecdotes describing its use in migraines and small studies with reasonably promising preliminary results. Better clinical trials may clarify the efficacy, side effects, and best method of use.

It is not advisable to "self-medicate" with marijuana for your migraines because you might not experience the effect you are hoping for, and you may experience side effects.

Also, keep in mind that marijuana is not legal in every state, and breaking any laws regarding substance use can cause you to have legal problems, potentially marking your record and creating long-term consequences. Be sure to find out the laws regarding marijuana and medical marijuana in your state before you pursue this route of treatment.

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