Updated on August 26, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Best Strains of Cannabis for Migraines
Migraine headaches cause severe pain that can last for hours or even days on end. Most migraine sufferers have one or two attacks per month, but the unfortunate minority who suffer chronic daily migraine can have 15 or more headaches a month.
Even though it is not quite clear what happens in the brain to kick off a migraine, certain factors or “triggers” can set them off in susceptible people. These triggers vary tremendously from person to person, but generally include hormonal fluctuations, environmental factors such as weather or bright lights, certain smells, alcohol, specific foods, poor sleep, and stress. Knowing these triggers can help a person head off a migraine before it starts, but that’s not always possible, and not everyone who gets migraines can identify a clear trigger.
There isn’t one treatment for migraine, and people resort to a variety of home remedies including dietary changes and lying down in a quiet, darkened room; over-the-counter drugs; and prescription medications to prevent or relieve pain.
Not surprisingly, there has been growing interest in cannabis for treating migraine. Research on medical marijuana has been limited by federal restrictions and lack of funding, so data on its effectiveness is usually scarce. But two recent studies suggest marijuana can help treat and even prevent migraines.
In a 2016 study, 121 adults with migraines who tried cannabis at the recommendation of their physician saw their migraine frequency decrease, from an average of 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month.
A second study presented at a conference in 2017 also found that cannabis was effective for both prevention and acute treatment of migraine headaches. In one part of the study, 48 patients given an oral dose of 200mg of cannabis every day for three months experienced a 55% decrease in pain.
Much about the use of cannabis for migraines is still unknown, such as the best strain, best dose, and best method of ingestion. Not all cannabis strains will have a positive effect, and it is a good idea to consult with a cannabis physician before choosing the cannabis migraine treatment route.
When it comes to choosing a strain, there is no consensus yet on which is the most effective for curbing migraine pain or reducing their frequency. But here are some picks that appear to be helpful:
This is a common strain and widely available at dispensaries. Its powerful sedative effects can help relieve migraine symptoms. Due to its high THC content of 20%, this strain can give immediate relief, while its CBD content can help support long-term pain reduction. With this strain, it is important to use it when you feel a headache beginning, before it develops into a full-blown migraine.
ACDC is a good choice for people who would like pain relief without psychoactive effects. It has a 1:20 THC/CBD ratio, with CBD levels up to 19%, and is also anti-inflammatory, which makes it effective at helping to control migraine symptoms.
This strain can be a little hard to find, but it has a reputation for being able to control pain. It typically contains 4-7% THC and 8-16% CBD, a balance that allows for good pain relief without an intense psychoactive effect. Similar to other strains, Harlequin should be used at the first signs of a migraine and before it becomes full blown, which is when it is most effective.
Known for being one of the “most delicious” strains to medicate with, this one also has a strong 17% THC content, and is used by individuals for treating migraines and pain in general.
An indica strain with high levels of CBD (~15%), Remedy contains less than 1% THC, and is reported to produce a mellow state. The high CBD content helps reduce the inflammation associated with migraines, and can decrease pain without producing a high.
A popular strain and a true indica, Northern Lights is effective at reducing pain as well as inducing relaxation. This strain is particularly popular for treating pain, including acute or chronic migraine headaches.
Canna-Tsu is a hybrid strain derived from Cannatonic and Sour Tsunami, and contains high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. Best known for producing calming effects and mental clarity, it also lowers inflammation, which in turns helps control migraine symptoms. This strain has a reputation for reducing pain linked to migraines and headaches in general.
For some migraines, sleep is really the best remedy, and this strain is best used at bedtime or if you have time to relax and let the migraine wear off. It has a high 17-22% THC content and a low 0.07-0.1% CBD level and induces a soothing euphoric high that in turn reduces the intensity of the migraine.