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Medical Marijuana and Headaches, Cluster

What Is Headaches, Cluster?

Cluster headaches are a severely painful condition that characteristically occurs in cycles, which is why it is known as cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are known for being one of the most painful, if not the most painful, and debilitating forms of headache. The underlying cause of these headaches is not known. However, it is known that they are not life threatening, despite the intense pain and suffering caused by them. The pain is so awful that the condition has earned the sobriquet "suicide headaches."  Cluster headaches are characterized by pain on one side of the head that affects the eye on that side. There may be a burning or stabbing pain behind, in or around the eye. Sufferers say that the affected eye feels like it is being stabbed or pushed out of their heads. The eye will usually produce excessive tears during the attack. Other eye symptoms include redness, swelling, drooping eyelid and constricted pupils. The sufferer will display specific behavior caused by the pain. This behavior includes pacing, restlessness and refusal to lie down, as it increases the pain. Sufferers may have a runny nose and appear pale as well.  The cycle or "cluster" of these headaches differ from suffer to sufferer. They will occur with a predictable frequency throughout clusters, typically once or twice daily. They often occur at the same time everyday for sufferers. Lending another nickname to the condition -- "alarm clock headaches" -- is the fact that they tend to happen at night after a person has fallen asleep. During the attack, the headache will last from a few minutes to several hours. This will continue daily for weeks or even months before remission begins. During remission, the sufferer will have no cluster headaches at all. This relief will last a few months and sometimes even years before another cluster begins. Some people suffer long clusters that last a year or more.

Medical Marijuana and Headaches, Cluster

Cluster Headache and Medical Marijuana Research

Very limited research has been done in regard to medical marijuana for treatment of cluster headaches. However, there is some indication that it could help with this condition. It has been observed that the hypothalamus may be, at least in part, responsible for producing cluster headaches. The hypothalamus has endocannabinoid receptors, which the active components in medical marijuana attach to causing the many beneficial and negative responses experienced by medical and recreational marijuana users. If medical marijuana can affect change in the areas causing cluster headaches, it may be able to alter the course of cluster headaches, relieve them or even stop them.

A case study published in "Headache" by a group of researchers at the Montefiore Headache Center, Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine indicated that cluster headaches could be stopped by inhaling medical marijuana. During the course of a headache, the study's subject would inhale marijuana and experience cessation of the headache within minutes of administration. Furthermore, when synthetic THC in the form of dronabinol was administered instead, the subject experienced identical results. 

This patient experienced results with medical marijuana despite having had no relief from medications typically prescribed for cluster headaches. If continued research shows similar results in other cluster headaches sufferers, this could be a huge breakthrough for these unfortunate individuals, particularly those who do not respond to traditional treatment. More research is required to determine whether other synthetic marijuana medications will produce the same results. 

Cluster Headaches and Medical Marijuana Studies

This study on its own is not sufficient to determine whether medical marijuana will help a significant portion of cluster headache sufferers. It involved a single participant. However, the treatment of a similar type of headache -- migraine -- with medical marijuana has been more extensively studied and has produced promising results. 

Marijuana is very mild as a pain reliever. It does not have even close to the same effect as opiates. However, it is safe in the respect that it cannot produce overdose or death. It also has much more potential in other departments apart from pain relief. It is quite likely in many conditions that marijuana can attack the root of the problem not just the pain, as with glaucoma. This is thought to be the case with the successful treatment of cluster headaches with medical marijuana as well. It is mild pain relieving effects certainly would not work on such an excruciating condition as a pain reliever. Nonetheless, the pain ceased. That indicates that marijuana can treat the immediate cause of the pain.

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