Can medical marijuana be a suitable substitute for existing treatment of migraine?

August 1, 2019  |  Can medical marijuana be a suitable substitute for existing treatment of migraine?

By, Lauraine Kanders, ANP, ACNP-BC

Chronic pain presents in many different forms. The incident of various types of chronic pain has been increasing in recent years, affecting more and more Americans in their daily lives. The prevalence of migraine headaches in the USA has been high over the past 19 years according to this 2018 study. Self-reported migraine and severe headache in the US adult population affects roughly 1 out of every 6 Americans; gender-wise it affects 1 in 5 women.

Migraines, cluster headaches, and chronic headaches are common types of chronic pain more Americans are having to live with. The question being asked is “Can medical marijuana be a suitable substitute for existing treatment of migraine?”

Migraines can be quite debilitating because the pain, which can last for days, can be relentless. This often makes the patient hyper-sensitive to even light and sound. This is the biggest reason why migraine patients look for better and effective relief from their symptoms.

One treatment migraine afflicted Americans are turning to is medical marijuana. If you’re wondering about marijuana and relief for your migraines, you might ask what evidence shows medical marijuana may be able to help. The answer may actually surprise you.

Nothing New Here With Marijuana and Pain Treatment

The use of medical marijuana for the treatment of headaches is documented from at least the 1800s. Many prominent physicians of that era advocated it as effective for both relief and preventative treatment. In the early 20th century, both British and American pharmacists used to dispense marijuana for headache. You will be surprised that one article from 1887 advocated using marijuana twice daily for what it called “chronic daily headaches” (a.k.a. chronic migraines).

In fact, in 1938, a comprehensive review was published, which argued against the illegalization of marijuana citing medicinal reasons! It cited 12 sources suggesting medical marijuana was an effective treatment for headaches.

Enter The Endocannabinoid Link 

More recent modern research attempts to shed light on why medical cannabis could be an effective treatment for migraines and headaches. There have been some surprising indications, including the idea that certain types of migraines could actually result from an endocannabinoid deficiency.

The endocannabinoid system is a naturally occurring system in the human body. The body naturally produces cannabinoid-like substances during its processes. This is why cannabinoids found in cannabis or marijuana act on this system to produce their effects.

Some preliminary studies have suggested a class of migraines may have multiple and significant relationships to the body’s endocannabinoid function. For example, the compound called Anandamide (AEA) acts on at least two receptors in the endocannabinoid system. This indicates there may be a therapeutic effect for cannabis in the treatment and prevention of migraines.

Other studies suggest reduced levels of AEA in certain areas of the brain could reflect an impairment of the endocannabinoid system in migraine and chronic headache patients. This could explain both the therapeutic effect of marijuana based cannabinoids as well as why migraine attacks and pain happens. The find in these tests is cannabinoid receptor 1 which could play a role in managing migraines.

More Research Based Evidence Is Needed

Despite the promising results of these early studies, further clinical research is being conducted to verify the effects of medical marijuana in both the treatment and prevention of migraines.

Here is a recent study that had 121 adult participants who complained of migraines. They used migraine medications along with several forms of medical marijuana, including an edible and an inhaled form. Of this group of participants, 19.8{4987cbd0f1f2865cb2bafb126986dce6dd2988a0c43aa47e1f31c6089a1ab5da} experienced a decrease in migraine frequency, 11.6{4987cbd0f1f2865cb2bafb126986dce6dd2988a0c43aa47e1f31c6089a1ab5da} experienced improvement of acute migraine attacks, and 11.6{4987cbd0f1f2865cb2bafb126986dce6dd2988a0c43aa47e1f31c6089a1ab5da} experienced side effects. The most common side effect reported was tiredness.

While the research evidence thus far is positive, you should keep in mind the vast majority of the clinical evidence so far is case-based or laboratory-based research. What does this mean? It means the studies, so far, rely on self-reporting from people already treating themselves with cannabis for their headaches.

Systematic clinical trials, with large samples and randomized control groups, are needed to further investigate these early findings.

Read More: The Entourage Effect.

To Conclude

Medical marijuana is one hopeful option for patients managing chronic migraines. Although the evidence isn’t yet trialled as a scheduled drug by Pharma companies, there is reason to think that medical marijuana could one day play a role in creating more effective treatments for migraine sufferers. This is could be more so true for headaches and migraine disorders linked to the endocannabinoid system.

At Medical Marijuana Recs NY, we provide our visitors with online video chats to become certified for Medical Marijuana in New York State. We have helped many with migraines to achieve the relief and can help you too! Our group of NPs and doctors will get you certified with this condition and many others. Click here to see if you qualify!