Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Everyone’s head hurts from time to time, but sometimes headaches become persistent or severe, making them debilitating. Chronic headaches can have a variety of causes, but everyone who experiences them wants relief. But unfortunately, the current treatments for severe headaches can have dangerous side effects or just don’t work well enough.
One of the most researched topics in the field of marijuana medicine is pain relief. Cannabis can reduce both neuropathic and muscle pain for patients looking for an alternative painkiller — plus, it can’t cause nearly as much harm as prescription painkillers.
Pini et al. examined nabilone’s ability to relieve medication overuse headaches (MOH). Nabilone is a synthetic cannabinoid that many medical researchers use in studies. MOH happens when a headache medicine is overused and causes even more headaches. The team specifically wanted to understand its impact on headache pain, headache frequency, medication intake and quality of life.
A total of 26 patients with MOH participated in two phases where they took nabilone or ibuprofen. They would take one drug for eight weeks, then take a one-week break. After the break, they took the other medicine for eight weeks. In this double-blind study, neither the team or the subjects knew which drug was taken until the end.
Nabilone relieved headaches, reduced medication use and raised quality of life better than ibuprofen. It did cause mild side effects, but they all went away once the patient stopped taking the drug. Pini et al. concluded that more extensive studies on nabilone for headaches were warranted.
Rhyne et al. observed medical cannabis use in migraine patients and how it reduced the frequency of migraines. No studies had explored the subject before, but previous research suggested cannabinoids could affect serotonin levels. If cannabinoids did change serotonin levels, it could relieve migraines.
To figure out medical marijuana’s impact on migraine frequency, the team reviewed the medical charts of 121 patients taking cannabis medicine for migraines. They examined the patients’ number of headaches per month before and after using medical marijuana. For secondary outcomes, they also looked at cannabis dosage, reported effects and other migraine treatments used.
On average, the monthly frequency of migraines lowered from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches when the patients used medical cannabis. Most patients used more than one kind of marijuana medicine to manage their symptoms. Only 14 patients, or 11.6% of them, reported adverse effects from their medication. Rhyne et al. concluded that more research should be done on the impact of various kinds of cannabis medicine on migraines.
At the 2017 Congress of the European Academy of Neurology, Nicolodi et al. announced positive results in their cannabinoid study, during which they looked at cannabis’ suitability as a treatment for migraines and cluster headaches.
Their study had two phases. In the first phase, migraine patients took varying doses of medications with THC or CBD. The second phase compared compound THC-CBD medicine with typical migraine and cluster headache treatments. Nicolodi et al. observed changes throughout a three-month period and conducted a follow-up evaluation four weeks after the three months.
The team found that 200 milligrams worked as an ideal dose, decreasing pain by 55%. When they compared the 200-milligram dose to regular headache medication, cannabinoids seemed to work better for patients with past or present migraines. The migraine patients experienced a 43.5% reduction in pain intensity. Cluster headache patients who had migraines as children felt similar relief, but not the other cluster headache patients.
Take control of your headache pain naturally with medical marijuana. To learn more, read about using medical cannabis for headaches in our condition guide.
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