Updated on January 29, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Even though migraines are one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the world, a universally effective treatment has yet to be found. Migraines are more than just headaches — additional symptoms for this health issue include sensitivity to noise or light, nausea and intense pain. There are several types of migraines, but almost half of the people who struggle with them do not seek medical attention.
Most adults treat their migraines using over-the-counter drugs — however, more severe cases are prescribed heavy-duty medications used to relieve their pain. Luckily, many studies have found medical marijuana to be an effective treatment for migraines. Not only can it be used at onset to lessen the pain, but it can also reduce the frequency of migraines. When used on a regular basis, cannabis can prevent the onset of migraines.
In 2001, researcher Ethan Russo conducted a ground-breaking scientific review to explore the efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of migraines. He not only looked at its use from a scientific point of view but from a historical aspect.
In ancient times, cannabis was used as a common treatment for many different medical issues, most notably pain. In fact, marijuana was the preferred treatment for migraines between 1842 and 1942. Anecdotal reports from users in recent decades also show cannabis can effectively treat migraine pain.
With the discovery of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and throughout the body, the medical community now realizes there are scientific justifications as to how and why cannabis works to treat pain. Russo concludes his study urging for the implementation of modern, controlled clinical trials to explore using medical marijuana to treat migraines.
As we continue to explore the endocannabinoid system, the potential of cannabis treatments continues to expand. This 2014 scientific review published in Neuro Endocrinology Letters investigated what causes the therapeutic benefits of cannabis in patients with migraines and other medical conditions.
The researchers theorized that endocannabinoid deficiency could cause certain medical conditions. By exploring available data, they found that the cannabinoids in marijuana block mechanisms that promote pain. In migraine patients, cannabinoids block the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, suggesting cannabis therapies could be used in the treatment of migraines.
This study concluded with the firm belief that cannabinoids in marijuana could hold the key to the treatment of painful medical conditions such as migraines. They noted that further clinical trials would bear this out and further prove the validity of their findings.
Up until this study was released in 2016, there were no clinical research studies to explore cannabis as a treatment for migraines. For that reason, researchers involved in this study evaluated the charts of 121 migraine patients who were recommended medical marijuana treatments. Their goal was to determine the effects of cannabis on adult migraine patients.
Most patients experienced distinct benefits from marijuana usage. They found that it treated the pain caused by their migraines, as well as reduced the frequency of their occurrences. This means cannabis-based medications could be used to prevent migraines from happening.
Although researchers concluded that these results were probably based on marijuana’s effect on the release of serotonin, they believed further studies should explore:
Although further clinical trials are needed, this research suggests that cannabis not only treats migraines, but also that it could be used to prevent their onset.
Many states allow patients to pursue marijuana treatments for chronic and debilitating pain. If you struggle with migraines on a regular basis, talk to a marijuana doctor to explore your options. You may qualify to become a medical marijuana cardholder in your state.