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By Luke Sumpter


The severity of migraines varies from one person to another. For some, they’re a mere annoyance, while others are left couchbound with visual disturbances, disorientation, and severe pain.

Many who suffer from the condition use nutrition and exercise as a preventative measure, and reach for strong painkillers and anti-sickness medicine when things get tough. However, some patients prefer to steer clear of conventional medicines, as they do little to alleviate the symptoms of resistant and refractory migraines[1].

As such, some individuals resort to smoking, vaping, and eating cannabis in an attempt to soothe themselves. Scores of anecdotes support this claim, and ongoing studies are investigating if and how the plant can help. So, does weed help with migraines? Read on to discover.

What Are Migraines?

A migraine is defined as a recurrent throbbing headache that typically affects one side of the head. They aren’t regular headaches; migraines tend to be much more severe and debilitating. The neurological condition also ranks as the most common headache disorder, with approximately 10% of the population experiencing a bout within a given year.

Unfortunately, most people don’t find much help in the medical system, as only one-third of patients receive proper treatment[2].

  • Symptoms of Migraine

Migraines are grouped into two categories: with aura, and without aura. Migraine auras are predominantly visual symptoms that set in before an attack, though they can occur during one as well. They often manifest as coloured spots, blind spots, tunnel vision, and zig-zags. However, auras can also rear their head in the form of muscle weakness, confusion, pins and needles, and speech problems.

Regardless of whether auras are experienced, migraines share the following key symptoms in common:

Headache attack lasting 4–72 hours Pulsing/throbbing pain
Pain on one side of the head Nausea and vomiting
Sensitivity to light and sound Yawning
Irritability Shoulder and neck stiffness
  • What Causes Migraines?

The exact cause of migraines remains unknown, but researchers have developed several theories over the years in hopes of uncovering the roots of the pathology. Some of the most prominent include:

  • Vascular theory: Until the mid-20th century, this theory posited that migraines strike when the carotid arteries (major blood vessels in the neck) become engorged[3].
  • Neurovascular theory: This theory points toward the neurological origins of migraine, suggesting that the vascular changes are only secondary to happenings in the central nervous system[4].
  • Neurotransmitter theory: Some research shows that migraine patients often produce low levels of serotonin; drugs that reduce the levels of this neurotransmitter increase the number of migraine attacks[5].
  • Brain stem theory: This theory suggests that the periaqueductal gray matter region of the brainstem might generate migraine attacks[6].
  • Biopsychosocial theory: Some researchers point toward the psychological elements of migraine, including influences of stress, pain catastrophising, and even personality[7].

Root causes aside, numerous factors can trigger a migraine attack, including:

Emotional stress Skipping a meal
Caffeine Hormonal changes in females
Sensitivity to food preservatives Changing weather conditions
Loud noises

So, where exactly does cannabis enter the picture? Why would a humble herb that sprouts from the ground have any positive effect on devastating migraine attacks? To answer that question, we need to take a peek into the endocannabinoid system, hereinafter referred to as the ECS.

Just as we possess a digestive system, nervous system, immune system, and musculoskeletal system, our bodies feature an ECS. All of these physiological systems fulfil unique functions; the immune system protects us from pathogens, and the digestive system helps us assimilate nutrients. And the ECS? This body-wide network is tasked with keeping other systems in balance. It maintains homeostasis—the biological sweet spot that keeps everything running smoothly. Not too fast, nor too slow.

The ECS comprises receptors, signalling molecules (known as endocannabinoids), and metabolic enzymes that synthesise and degrade endocannabinoids. A wide range of cell types create endocannabinoids on demand. These lipids then bind to ECS receptors to create the desired changes within target cells. Many different receptors make up the ECS, but cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) are the primary types.

This is where things get interesting. The cannabis plant produces molecules that are structurally similar to our endocannabinoids, known as phytocannabinoids. These chemicals are so similar to our own that they’re able to bind to ECS receptors and alter enzyme activity—we can essentially hack the ECS through the use of phytocannabinoids.

The Link Between Migraines and Cannabis

Because the ECS oversees other systems, it comes as no surprise that endocannabinoid levels are implicated in migraine attacks. Indeed, researchers have discovered a link between dysregulation of the ECS in the condition. Cells start to churn out the endocannabinoid anandamide in response to inflammation, a molecule that binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Clinical observations have identified reduced anandamide levels in cerebrospinal fluid and plasma samples taken from migraine patients[8].

In this regard, these findings place migraine alongside conditions such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Lower levels of circulation endocannabinoids, or “low endocannabinoid tone”, is thought to potentially cause a dysregulation of the ECS known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency[9]. Researchers are now exploring whether phytocannabinoids provide a worthy substitute to fulfil the role of their endogenous counterparts.

What Does the Research Say About Cannabis and Migraines?

These theories sound promising, but does cannabis help to alleviate migraine attacks in the real world? Plenty of people will tell you that puffing on a joint or hitting a bowl takes the edge off the throbbing pain and nausea. While encouraging, anecdotes don’t provide an accurate view of reality. Repeatable and vigorous scientific studies hold the answers to the efficacy of the herb. Unfortunately, controlled human trials currently don’t exist.

Below, we’ll delve into the available research to get as close to an answer as possible.

  • Medical Marijuana for Migraines

Does medical marijuana help migraines? It depends on what you mean by medical marijuana. These resinous flowers seem simple to the naked eye, but they contain hundreds of phytochemicals, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids; all of these constituents have unique effects on the human body.

There are thousands of cultivars available, and each has a different ratio of these chemicals. As you can imagine, it’s hard to quantify exactly what’s happening at the cellular level. However, most ongoing studies are focused on high-THC medical marijuana varieties for migraine attacks.

A 2019 study conducted at Washington State University collected anecdotal data from over 1,300 migraine patients who used cannabis to treat their condition. An impressive 49.6% stated that the herb helped to reduce the severity of the attacks[10].

A 2021 study also collected anecdotal data using an online survey. They received answers from 589 adult cannabis users living in states where they had access to medical marijuana. Over 70% of the participants endorsed using cannabis to curb their migraine attacks. However, the researchers concluded that “future studies are needed to determine the cannabis forms, potencies, and dosages that are most effective at treating migraine headaches”[11].

A human trial titled “Efficacy of Inhaled Cannabis for Acute Migraine Treatment” is set for publication in December 2021. The phase two trial utilised both high-THC and high-CBD medical marijuana for migraines, and will add weight to existing anecdotal data[12].

Physiologically speaking, THC mimics anandamide at the CB1 receptor, yet to an even greater degree. In cases of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, the psychotropic cannabinoid could theoretically fill in for anandamide and temporarily fulfil its function.

Medical Marijuana for Migraines
  • CBD and Migraines

Where does CBD fit into the picture? This non-psychotropic cannabinoid has a low binding affinity with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, the molecule disrupts the function of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). After anandamide runs its course, FAAH rapidly breaks it down. By inhibiting FAAH, CBD raises circulating anandamide—a helpful mechanism in the context of endocannabinoid deficiency. Preclinical studies are currently exploring the efficacy of FAAH inhibitors as a treatment for migraine[13].

No human trials testing CBD for its effects on migraines currently exist. We’ll have to wait for research to reach this point before we know the true efficacy of CBD for the condition.

  • Dronabinol and Migraines

A synthetic version of THC, dronabinol was approved in 1985 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Ongoing research is determining the efficacy of the medication in the treatment of chronic migraine headaches and refractory cluster headaches[14].

Dronabinol binds with the same receptor sites as THC. However, patients can only access the medicine as oral capsules. This method of administration converts the molecule into the more potent 11-hydroxy-THC in the liver, leading to intoxicating effects that some patients find unpleasant. The FDA has yet to approve dronabinol for the treatment of migraine. Moreover, their prescribing information document lists headaches as an adverse effect of the medication[15].

Can Cannabis Cause Migraines?

Even if cannabis works for someone suffering from migraines, they might find their attacks returning with a vengeance. Some patients experience a new kind of headache, or a significantly worse version of their original malady, when using cannabis too frequently. Known as rebound headaches or medication-overuse headaches, this phenomenon can occur with several different types of medication.

However, the research remains early and unclear in the case of cannabis. A preliminary study conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine found that patients with chronic migraines who use cannabis are around six times more likely to experience overuse headaches than those who don’t. However, the researchers are still unsure of the association between the two, and if patients are simply using cannabis to treat rebound headaches, as opposed to the herb directly causing the condition[16].

When and How To Consume Cannabis for Migraines

There are multiple options to consider when it comes to using cannabis for migraine attacks. Most of the research focuses on inhaled cannabis, but some people prefer to chow down on edibles.

Smoking Smoking weed delivers cannabinoids almost directly into the bloodstream via the alveoli of the lungs. This route of administration results in near-instant effects. But smoking comes with obvious downsides, especially when using tobacco alongside weed to craft spliffs. As well as damaging lung health, smoking can trigger headaches in some people.
Vaping Vaping also delivers a rapid hit of cannabinoids, although this method uses lower temperatures than smoking. Instead of combusting cannabis flowers, vaporizers use conduction or convection heating systems to vaporize cannabinoids and terpenes, resulting in less tar and toxic chemicals. Studies exploring vaping for migraines also found no association between the route of administration and overuse headaches.[10]
Edibles Edibles offer a different route of administration to inhaled cannabis. Eating infused treats sends THC through the stomach and liver, converting the molecule into 11-hydroxy-THC. While some users aren’t keen on the potency of the experience, others revel in the borderline-psychedelic effects. This option might work for some users, but it’s best reserved for the evenings, away from work and other responsibilities.

Migraines, the Endocannabinoid System, and Cannabis

The bottom line: we need clinical trials to clear the murky waters and demonstrate the efficacy of cannabis for migraine attacks. However, the anecdotal evidence paints a promising picture. On top of this, research into clinical endocannabinoid deficiency hints that the ECS might underpin the pathophysiology of the condition.

Which Cannabis Strains Can Help Ease Migraines and Headaches?

Some cannabis strains appear to work better for people experiencing migraine attacks than others. Based on anecdotal feedback from users, these cultivars stand out above the rest in our extensive genetic archive. Buckle up for high levels of THC, mouth-watering terpene profiles, and rewarding yields.

White Widow

White Widow, named for her beautiful white coat of sparkling trichomes, is one of the most legendary cannabis strains around the world. Many consider this balanced 50/50 indica/sativa hybrid to be one of the best and most consistent cultivars to grow and smoke. She delivers a phenomenally powerful, almost psychedelic high that is cerebral but also incredibly relaxing. Her flavour is fresh and clean, with notes of pine and hints of citrus. With 19% THC, White Widow can be a good choice to soothe an oncoming migraine.

White Widow

White Widow
White Widow S1
450 - 500 gr/m2
60 - 100 cm
8 - 10 weeks
THC: 19%
Sativa 50% Indica 50%
550 - 600 gr/plant
150 - 190 cm
Early October
Powerful , Stoned

Buy White Widow

OG Kush

OG Kush is a classic strain that’s still a favourite among many cannabis users. Devout fans love the strain for its very intense smoke with the typical OG dankness and slight citrus kick. But of everything, what people love most about this 75% indica is her immense potency. Her effect is extremely relaxing on the body and the mind. This makes the iconic West Coast strain also a favourite among medicinal users looking to banish the varied physiological symptoms of migraines.

OG Kush

O.G. Kush
Chemdawg x Lemon Thai x Pakistani Kush
425 - 475 gr/m2
90 - 160 cm
7 - 9 weeks
THC: 19%
Sativa 25% Indica 75%
500 - 550 gr/plant
180 - 220 cm
October
Calming, Uplifting

Buy O.G. Kush

Chocolate Haze

The popular Chocolate Haze is an almost pure (95%) sativa that’s perfect for all those who suffer from conditions such as arthritis, muscle pain, stress, and migraines. Her effect is extremely powerful yet pleasantly uplifting and cerebral. Her sunny and upbeat high make Chocolate Haze also a good choice for those looking to boost their mood. She will spoil you with her characteristic chocolate taste that blends with sweet and earthy notes.

Chocolate Haze

Chocolate Haze
OG Chocolate Thai x Cannalope Haze
475 - 525 gr/m2
90 - 160 cm
9 - 11 weeks
THC: 20%
Sativa 95% Indica 5%
450 - 500 gr/plant
150 - 200 cm
Late October
Heavy

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Sour Diesel

Sour Diesel is one of the most famous strains, and not just for her unique flavour that many cannabis enthusiasts love. Hailing from sunny California, this predominantly sativa hybrid delivers an awesomely potent and very aromatic smoke where she blends trademark fuel notes with herbal and sour flavours. With 19% THC, she delivers a powerful body high that is excellent for soothing headaches and easing stress.

Sour Diesel

Sour Diesel
Original Diesel x (Northern light x Shiva x Hawaiian)
475 - 525 gr/m2
90 - 160 cm
10 - 11 weeks
THC: 19%
Sativa 70% Indica 30%
550 - 600 gr/plant
150 - 200 cm
Late October
Clear, Physically Relaxing

Buy Sour Diesel

Green Crack Punch

Green Crack Punch is a truly special cannabis strain. A mix of Green Crack, a strain known for her uplifting and energetic effect, and Purple Punch, massively potent in its own right, Green Crack Punch is a very relaxing indica heavy-hitter. The combo of these two strains makes for an awesome effect. You will feel motivated and energised while she will relax your body from head to toe. With her powerful effect (she measures up to 20% THC), this 60% indica is an ideal choice for medicinal users who want a flexible strain to dose throughout the day.

Green Crack Punch

Green Crack Punch
Green Crack x Purple Punch
450 - 500 gr/m2
90 - 160 cm
8 - 9 weeks
THC: 18%
Sativa 60% Indica 40%
550 - 600 gr/plant
180 - 220 cm
Late September
Calming, Euphoric

Buy Green Crack Punch

Medical DisclaimerInformation listed, referenced or linked to on this website is for general educational purposes only and does not provide professional medical or legal advice.

Royal Queen Seeds does not condone, advocate or promote licit or illicit drug use. Royal Queen Seeds Cannot be held responsible for material from references on our pages or on pages to which we provide links, which condone, advocate or promote licit or illicit drug use or illegal activities. Please consult your Doctor/Health care Practitioner before using any products/methods listed, referenced or linked to on this website.

External Resources:
  1. European headache federation consensus on the definition of resistant and refractory migraine | The Journal of Headache and Pain | Full Text https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com
  2. Migraine diagnosis: Screening items, instruments, and scales https://www.sciencedirect.com
  3. Personality features and reactions of subjects with migraine | Archives of Neurology & Psychiatry | JAMA Network https://jamanetwork.com
  4. Migraine pathogenesis: the neural hypothesis reexamined. https://jnnp.bmj.com
  5. Pathogenesis of Migraine: Role of Neuromodulators https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com
  6. Periaqueductal Gray Matter Dysfunction in Migraine: Cause or the Burden of Illness? https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com
  7. OBM Neurobiology | Psychological Considerations in the Etiology and Pathophysiology of Migraines https://www.lidsen.com
  8. (PDF) Endocannabinoid System and Migraine Pain: An Update https://www.researchgate.net
  9. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  10. Short- and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Headache and Migraine https://www.jpain.org
  11. Experience of migraine, its severity, and perceived efficacy of treatments among cannabis users https://www.sciencedirect.com
  12. Efficacy of Inhaled Cannabis for Acute Migraine Treatment - Full Text View - ClinicalTrials.gov https://clinicaltrials.gov
  13. FAAH inhibition as a preventive treatment for migraine: A pre-clinical study - PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  14. The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  15. MARINOL (dronabinol) capsules, for oral use, CIII Initial U.S. Approval: 1985 https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
  16. Medication Overuse Headache in Chronic Migraine Patients Using Cannabis: A Case-Referent Study | Research Square https://www.researchsquare.com
Disclaimer:
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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