We know from a number of studies that some people with migraine use cannabis to reduce their pain. An electronic survey conducted in 2017 received responses from 2,032 Canadian patients whose pain stemmed from 21 different illnesses, including 505 who probably had migraines they were treating with cannabis.
We also know from a University of Colorado School of Pharmacy study published in 2016 that cannabis appears to reduce the frequency of migraines. Researchers looked at its effects of cannabis use on 121 migraine patients who had been referred by their physicians to medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado. They found that 85 percent of the patients reported getting fewer migraines during treatment: an average drop of 10.4 to 4.6 episodes per month. In addition, 12 percent of the patients said that using cannabis at the onset of a migraine often aborted the headache.
Most of the patients used more than one form of cannabis on a daily basis and reported the best success with inhaled forms. Fourteen patients reported negative effects, most often sleepiness. Two said the effects were too strong, but they were using edible products, which are more commonly associated with adverse reactions.
The researchers concluded that further studies are needed to determine if there is a preferred delivery method and whether a specific dose and strain of cannabis would be most effective for migraine treatment and prevention. (Based on what we now know, smoking it appears to work fastest for migraine relief.)
In 2007, researchers at the University of Perugia in Italy, reported that individuals with chronic migraine had significantly lower levels of two endocannabinoids that occur naturally in the body compared to age-matched controls. This difference may explain why some people are susceptible to these headaches and why cannabis appears to help prevent and relieve the headaches.
In a report published in May 2015, Eric P. Baron, D.O. of the Cleveland Clinic’s Neurology Department, reviewed the history of the medical use of cannabis with a focus on migraine and other types of headaches. In his analysis of 38 previously published randomized controlled trials, he found that 71 percent of the studies concluded that “cannabinoids had empirically demonstrable and statistically significant pain-relieving effects,” while 29 percent did not. Dr. Baron’s report concluded that we need more clinical trials to explore the potential of cannabis in the prevention and treatment of migraine and other types of headaches.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Danielle N. Rhyne and Sarah L. Anderson et al, “Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population.” Pharmacotherapy, January 9, 2016, DOI: 10.1002/phar.1673
Eric P. Baron, “Comprehensive Review of Medicinal Marijuana, Cannabinoids, and Therapeutic Implications in Medicine and Headache: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been…” Headache, June 2015, doi:10.1111/head.12570