Cannabis for Migraines: Pros and Cons
Cannabis has been used for centuries as a migraine treatment. But is it effective? Is it safe? This article discusses the pros and cons of cannabis for migraine relief.
Cannabis contains 450 different substances and only three are psychoactive or elicit a “high” (study).
Here are two of the most studied:
THC is psychoactive and serves a medicinal use. THC gets people high.
CBD is not psychoactive (no high) and also has strong medicinal research.
Eleven Reasons Why Cannabis May Relieve Migraines
1. First Marijuana Migraine Clinical Trial
The first migraine clinical trial for medical marijuana was published in May of 2016 (study).
The study included 121 migraineurs who were prescribed medical marijuana in Colorado.
The results: migraine frequency decreased from a group average of 10.4 migraine days per month to 4.6 migraine days per month.
103 of the 121 migraineurs reported a decrease in migraines.
Twelve percent used marijuana to immediately abort migraines.
The problem science has with this study:
Patients used various forms of cannabis including vaporized, edible, topical cream, and smoked. Doses ranged from an average of 2.64 ounces for vaporized to 1.59 ounces per month for smoked cannabis. Different strains of cannabis were used with varying potencies and effects.
The varying cannabis doses, types, and the lack of a placebo group leave many unanswered questions.
The monthly dose here is also too high for people who don’t want to feel “high”. In addition, this study does not show the success rate of CBD oil (non-psychoactive cannabis oil).
This first clinical evidence for the use of cannabis as a migraine treatment showed a 56 percent reduction in total migraines. If this success rate is duplicated in a placebo-controlled trial with a specific dose, cannabis may become the most successful migraine prevention medication in research.
2. Historical Migraine Use
Cannabis was a leading migraine treatment from 1874 until 1942, when cannabis was deemed illegal in the United States. At the time, twelve medical authorities approved of cannabis for migraine therapy.
Ergotamine remained the only migraine treatment for the next 50 years (study).
Many physicians favored cannabis because ergotamine had, and still has, a dangerous list of side effects. Numbness on one side of the body, blue fingers and toes, confusion, and even death are just a few ergotamine’s side effects (research, study).
3. Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is associated with migraines and nearly all migraine triggers (full article).
Oxidative stress is referred to as the “universal migraine trigger.”
Excitotoxicity occurs from a buildup of a neurotransmitter called glutamate. Glutamate is great. It’s how your thoughts are transmitted, allowing you to read this sentence. However, in excess, glutamate becomes toxic (study).
THC reduces excitotoxicity. It’s not surprising that the portion of cannabis that makes you high prevents thoughts (glutamate) from firing too rapidly (study).
CBD also has the ability to protect against excitotoxicity during and after brain injuries, possibly by preventing excessive glutamate and/or antioxidant properties (study).
Excessive glutamate plays a large role in trigger migraines (full article).
5. Increased Serotonin
Research as far back as the 1970s shows that cannabis increases serotonin levels (the happy brain chemical) (study).
Cannabis’s ability to treat migraines and increase serotonin may have led to the development of the first migraine specific drug called triptans.
Triptans increase serotonin levels in a similar way to other migraine drugs, such as ergotamine or anti-depressants (study).
6. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Animal studies show that cannabis can slow the onset of MS by reducing inflammation in the brain (study).
A spray of THC and CBD called Sativex has alleviated the chronic pain, paralysis, and other symptoms in MS patients (study).
MS patients are three times more likely to have migraines (full article, #2)
7. Nausea Relief
Ondansetron (Zofran) is a leading treatment for nausea in emergency medicine. Ondansetron works by blocking a certain serotonin receptor called 5-HT3 (study).
According to a large survey, nausea occurs in more than 90 percent of all migraineurs (study).
Persistent nausea is found in 44 percent of migraineurs and it doubles the risk of developing chronic migraines (15 plus days per month) (study).
In a case study featured on CNN, CBD extract reduced epilepsy in a girl named Charlotte from nearly 50 seizures per day down to just two or three nocturnal seizures per month (study).
Charlotte’s CBD extract has been effective for more than 20 months. Charlotte was weaned off all other seizure medication.
Watch the emotional story below:
A survey of 19 children using cannabis for epilepsy found similar results:
Sixteen children (84 percent) reduced seizures.
Eight children (42 percent) reduced seizures by more than 80 percent.
Two children (11 percent) had complete seizure freedom.
The average number of epileptic drugs tried prior to the study was 12 (study). The children had little relief from the medications. Some of these medications have the risk of death, as we saw in the documentary on Charlotte.
Patients with seizures are more likely to have migraines (full article, # 21).
CBD may reduce seizures by slowing the release of a migraine trigger called glutamate (study).
CBD can also stop seizures immediately as reported by Ben Swann of CBS:
https://youtu.be/Y-vzhUT5irY — Update: The video has since been deleted, along with all of Ben Swann’s media accounts.
The nasal spray shown in the video above is of particular interest because nasal sprays work faster to numb the nerve associated with migraines (full article). Timing is critical for aborting migraines and ingesting oral medications is not as fast or effective.
The same mechanism of slowing glutamate could reduce migraine frequency as it does with other epilepsy medications used to treat migraines (full article).
9. Parkinson’s Disease
Cannabis improves the motor function in those with Parkinson’s disease. It also improves their ability to sleep and their pain levels (study).
The results of cannabis for Larry, a Parkinson’s disease patient, are beyond words.
Perhaps cannabis could calm the oversensitive trigeminal nerve in migraine sufferers in a similar way to calming the motor function in Parkinson’s disease.
Migraines are associated with inflammation and anti-inflammatories are common migraine treatments (full article).
Research shows that 1000 mg of aspirin is as strong for migraine relief as 100 mg of sumatriptan, something that drug companies don’t want you to know (13 studies).
11. Alzheimer’s Disease
A study published in 2014 found that low doses of THC reduced the amyloid plaque responsible for brain lesions in Alzheimer’s disease (study). In addition, THC increased mitochondrial function which prevents the same oxidative stress that is common in migraine sufferers.
One study found that migraines tripled the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (study).
12. Ultra-high Lethal Dose
Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and many medications result in death from 10 to 20 times their “typical effective dose.” Cannabis has a lethal dose that is 100 to 1,000 times its standard dose (research).
There are no documented cases of overdose from cannabis use and only two suspected cannabis-related deaths found in a German study that was completed in 2014 (study). Of the two possible cannabis deaths, one had a serious undetected heart problem and the other had a history of alcohol and drug use.
Considering the long history of cannabis use, especially from ultra-high doses of edibles, its safety is remarkable.
Six Ways Cannabis Could Hurt You
1. Wrong Dose (aka “a bad trip”)
THC and CBD can activate cannabinoid receptors to reduce oxidative stress, excitotoxicity, and inflammation. However, both THC and CBD can also block the cannabinoid receptor and have the opposite effective (study).
“It seems to be a dose-dependent issue,” according to research published in 2016 (study). Dose-dependent means that a dose too high could end up hurting you more than it helps, just like any drug.
Cannabinoid receptors play complex roles in regulating the immune system. Cannabinoid receptors can activate inflammation to kill invaders or suppress the inflammation that damages the human body. More research is needed to find out exactly what type of cannabis and what dose is inflammatory or anti-inflammatory for any given condition (study).
Recent research shows that low doses of THC can increase serotonin. However, high doses can slightly reduce serotonin levels (study).
In other words, too much cannabis could make migraines worse. The dose for any migraine medication makes a difference.
Sugar is also addictive and arguably more addictive than cannabis (study).
Cannabis is a federally illegal schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs such as heroin have no accepted medical use and are highly addictive.
CBD was recently listed as a schedule 1 drug by the DEA. CBD is not addictive and the United States Government has a patent on CBD as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant (Denver Post). It’s hypocrisy.
The problem is simple. Opiates are an 11-billion-dollar-per-year market (report). States that legalize cannabis lose opiate sales. Opiate deaths are also reduced by 25 percent (NYT). So drug companies lobby (legally bribe) federal groups to make cannabis products illegal (Time).
Pharmaceutical companies have spent $2.3 billion lobbying to congress over the last 10 years (NYT). Of course they are going to make a medicine that grows in the dirt illegal. It doesn’t mean congress is evil. They just care more for lobster breakfasts on yachts than saving lives.
If cannabis is illegal in your state, you could face large criminal charges.
Smoke produces tar and is, obviously, not good for your lungs. It increases oxidative stress in the lungs and could lead to more migraines (study).
A Spanish study found that smoking more than five cigarettes per day increases your risk of migraines (study).
Try vaporizing, lotions, edibles, or oils before smoking.
5. Negative Effects
Cannabis can cause dry mouth, nausea, paranoia, anxiety, short-term memory problems, and hallucinations. This is common in large doses of edibles.
Allergic reactions to one of the 700 varieties of cannabis are possible. Personal allergens are migraine triggers (full article).
Speak with your doctor before using cannabis for migraines.
6. Research is Lacking
Cannabis is illegal and the DEA makes it extremely difficult to do research on it (Popular Science).
The research for the specific types and doses of cannabis that benefit migraines is almost non-existent.
Using cannabis will come with a large risk of trial and error.
There are over 700 strains of cannabis and their levels of THC, CBD, and other anti-inflammatory substances vary widely.
Cannabis is federally illegal and minimal research has been done on it. Using cannabis will come with the risk of trial and error.
You don’t need to get high to experience the benefits of cannabis. CBD may be the most powerful migraine treatment, especially in the form of nasal spray or oil.
Saying “I tried cannabis for migraine and it didn’t work” is comparable to saying, “I tried one medication out of dozens and it didn’t work.” There are multiple strains, doses, extracts, and methods for consuming cannabis.
The first clinical trial on marijuana and migraines found that 85 percent of patients reduced their migraine frequency.
With the legalization of cannabis, there will be exciting research to come for migraine sufferers.