Research Finds Cannabis Effective for Migraines

Cannabis preparations are likely effective at preventing and treating migraines, according to a recently published review of available research. The study, “Medical Cannabis for the Treatment of Migraine in Adults: A Review of the Evidence,” was published in May by the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Neurology.

To complete the study, researchers affiliated with the University of Arizona analyzed previously published scientific studies on the effects that cannabinoids have on migraine patients. The objective of the review was to assess the effectiveness and safety of medicinal marijuana in the treatment of migraine in adults.

The researchers identified 12 studies that had been published in Italy and the US involving a total of 1,980 migraine patients. The review revealed that plant cannabinoids have the ability to reduce the number of migraine days and to abort the onset of migraine headaches. The use of cannabis preparations was also associated with significant reductions of pain, vomiting and nausea caused by migraine.

Reducing Migraine Symptoms

Migraine is one of the world’s most common neurological diseases, according to information from the Migraine Research Foundation, affecting approximately 39 million people in the US and about one billion globally. Symptoms, which are often debilitating, can include severe headache, dizziness, nausea, visual disturbances and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine disease is commonly treated with strong pharmaceutical drugs, although results of treatment vary widely from patient to patient.

Researchers conducting the review of scientific literature determined that after 30 days of use, medical marijuana significantly reduced the number of days patients experienced migraines and the frequency of migraine attacks per month. After six months of use, cannabis significantly reduced the nausea and vomiting associated with migraine.

Medical marijuana was 51% more effective in reducing migraines compared to products that didn’t contain cannabis. Compared to amitriptyline, medical marijuana aborted migraine headaches in 11.6% of patients and reduced migraine frequency. The researchers concluded that there is substantial evidence to support claims that medical cannabis (MC) can be effective at reducing the frequency of migraine and aborting migraine attacks when they occur. The authors of the study also called for more rigorous studies of the effect that cannabis can have on migraine and associated symptoms.

“There is promising evidence that MC may have a beneficial effect on the onset and duration of migraine headaches in adults,” the authors wrote in their conclusion of the study. “However, well-designed experimental studies that assess MC’s effectiveness and safety for treating migraine in adults are needed to support this hypothesis.”

Findings Supported by Previous Research

The new study is consistent with previous research that has shown cannabis can have a beneficial effect for migraine patients. A 2018 study found that cannabidiol (CBD) has several pharmacological properties including acting as an anti-inflammatory, while numerous anecdotal accounts of CBD oil successfully being used for migraine have been reported. Last year, data from a clinically validated survey showed that 86% of respondents reported a decrease in headache impact after using a cannabidiol (CBD) formulation for a 30-day trial period.

The survey was taken by customers using a CBD oil product designed by Axon Relief, a company that creates supplements specifically for migraine sufferers. Known as the Headache Impact Test (Hit-6), the clinically validated survey measures the impact that headaches have on a respondent’s daily life and ability to function.

Participants completed the Hit-6 survey both before and after using the CBD oil. During the 30-day trial period, respondents experienced an average of 3.8 fewer headache days than before using Axon’s CBD oil, a reduction of 23%. Chronic migraine sufferers, defined as people who experience 15 to 29 headache days over a 30-day period, saw a 33% reduction in their headache days.

A participant in the informal Axon study identified only as Glen reported that since “the ’90s I’ve been on constant high doses of carbamazepine and gabapentin. The periodic pain breakthroughs were only controlled by hydrocodone, which always made me feel…uncomfortable,” Glen wrote in a statement from Axon. “What a change CBD oil has made: no more carbamazepine or hydrocodone, and only half the gabapentin—and far better pain control. Pain breakthroughs still happen, but another squirt of Axon CBD, and the pain is gone within 15 minutes. I have no side effects.”

Of the 105 people who participated in the trial for Axon, 15 reported that they were experiencing daily headaches at the beginning of the study. By the end of the 30-day trial period, the number had dropped to 10, a reduction of 33%.

Another review of available research published by the journal Cureus last year also found that medical cannabis could be an effective treatment for migraine. The authors of that study found “encouraging data on medicinal cannabis’ therapeutic effects on alleviating migraines in all of the studies reviewed.”

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The Feds Request Info on Cannabis & Migraines

The federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is putting out a call for research on marijuana’s impact on migraines.

The request comes as part of a wider call from the AHRQ seeking scientific information submissions from the public for review on treatments for Acute Episodic Migraines. The review is currently in progress and being conducted by the AHRQ’s Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPC) Program. The agency said any scientific materials, published or not, that could inform the review are welcome.

A big part of what the AHRQ is trying to do is compare the effectiveness of opioid therapy versus an array of non-opioid pharmacologic therapies. In addition to marijuana, they’ll look at more traditional pharmaceutical options for migraine relief like acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, triptans, muscle relaxants and anti-nausea medications, among others. So needless to say, cannabis sounds the most user-friendly of the bunch for sure.

The AHRQ will also be comparing non-pharmacologic therapy options, like exercise or acupuncture, and their impacts on migraines.

For all the treatment options, they’ll be looking for results and info related to things like starting pain, how the person is able to function during treatment, how satisfied the patients are with the pain relief and how their general quality of life is with the treatment. They’ll also look at potential to abuse treatment and overdoses. We imagine cannabis will score well against other treatments in this category, but we can’t imagine anyone has ever overdosed from acupuncture either.

Looking at how effective cannabis is as a treatment for migraines is certainly not a new idea. In 1998, the International Association for the Study of Pain accepted a paper from the long-time cannabis researcher and neurologist Ethan Russo on the subject.

“Cannabis, or marijuana, has been used for centuries for both symptomatic and prophylactic treatment of migraine,” Russo wrote. “It was highly esteemed as a headache remedy by the most prominent physicians of the age between 1874 and 1942, remaining part of the Western pharmacopeia for this indication even into the mid-twentieth century.”

Russo noted that anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis is still an effective treatment for migraines, and said that he “believes that controlled clinical trials of cannabis in acute migraine treatment are warranted.”

Russo went on to note it’s hard for physicians to simply wrap their heads around how prominent cannabis was as medicine before prohibition. Russo said that research from before 1974 examined five case studies of patients who voluntarily experimented with the substance to treat painful conditions. Three of the people taking part had chronic headaches and found relief by smoking cannabis “that was comparable, or superior to ergotamine tartrate and aspirin.”

In recent times, there is still plenty riding on the quest to understand why people with migraines get relief from cannabis, so much so here we are talking about the federal government trying to figure it out.

Last month, we noted why migraines are such a big deal — not only for women who are two to three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men, but for all people suffering. Research published by Washington State University in November showed that in the 20,000 cannabis use sessions they tracked where people were trying to get relief for a headache, they were successful 90% of the time. Sounds like it’s worth a shot before diving down the rabbit hole of Big Pharma.

TELL US, do you use cannabis to treat any of your medical problems?

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Cannabis for Migraine-induced nausea

We recently explored a possible lead to some migraine headaches and how deficiencies in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) can be responsible for them. The brainstem both triggers and responds to migraine, which is how the gut’s nervous system becomes connected not only as an effect in the form of nausea but a cause as well. […]

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Migraines and Cannabis – Introducing Beauty and the Beast

Not all of us have suffered a serious headache and even fewer have experienced the power of a severe migraine. That faint sense of disorientated nausea begins to emanate from an uncomfortable pressure throughout the forehead. This familiar warning of the impending threat brings forward a panic of defenses. Once the episode has been realized […]

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