A study from the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy published in 2016 suggests that marijuana can reduce the frequency with which migraines occur. Researchers looked at the effects of medical marijuana on 121 patients who had been diagnosed with migraine and referred by their physicians to medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado.
The researchers found that 85 percent of the patients reported getting fewer migraines during treatment. The frequency of their headaches dropped from 10.4 to 4.6 per month. In addition, 12 percent of the patients said that using marijuana prior to the onset of migraines prevented their headaches.
Most of the patients used more than one form of marijuana on a daily basis. Inhaled forms were most commonly used to successfully relieve the headaches. However, 14 patients reported negative effects, most often sleepiness. Two had trouble controlling how pronounced the effects of marijuana were in their treatment, but they were using edible products, a form which is more associated with adverse reactions.
The researchers concluded that further studies are needed to determine if there is a preferred delivery method and a dose and strain of marijuana that would be most effective for migraine treatment and prevention. They noted that no clinical trials have yet demonstrated the effects of marijuana on migraine, but suggested that the potential effects of cannabinoids – one the active compounds in the plant – on the neurotransmitter serotonin may explain how treatment works.
The results of this study aren’t the first to suggest that marijuana can help relieve severe headaches. In 2009, neurologists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reported that a 19-year-old patient who suffered from cluster headaches (often more severe than migraines) consistently experienced relief within five minutes of smoking marijuana. This young man didn’t respond to the drugs typically used to treat migraines and cluster headaches. He also obtained dramatic relief within five to 15 minutes of taking 5-milligram doses of synthetic oral THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis.
In 2007, researchers at the University of Perugia in Italy, reported that individuals with chronic migraines had significantly lower levels of two cannabinoids that occur naturally in the body compared to age-matched controls. This difference may explain why some people are susceptible to migraines in the first place and why marijuana appears to help prevent and relieve the headaches.
In a report published in May 2015 Eric P. Baron, of the Cleveland Clinic’s Neurology Department, reviewed the history of the medical use of marijuana with a focus on migraine and other types of headaches. His report referenced a review of 38 published randomized controlled trials. In that analysis, 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 clinical trials focused on exploring the role marijuana may play in migraines and other types of headaches.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Danielle N. Rhyne and Sarah L. Anderson et al, “Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine F=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