Believe it or not, migraine is one of the most common health issues in the world, right after dental caries and tension headaches. In fact, it’s estimated that about 12% of the worldwide population suffers from chronic migraines.
Pharmaceutical drugs commonly used for relieving migraines are effective, but only for some patients. Unfortunately, pills for this type of pain can have a number of unwanted side-effects.
As a consequence, frustrated patients are turning to a more natural kind of remedy — medicinal marijuana for migraines.
Chronic migraines can really affect your everyday life and activities. That throbbing and persistent pain can mess up with your productivity at work, affect your mood, cause sleeping problems and even stop you from taking proper care of your loved ones.
Up until today, pharmaceutical industry failed to develop a medication which helps every patient.
The most common treatment for migraines usually revolves around traditional painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
The typical side-effect of taking such painkillers is a condition called a “medication-overuse headache”.
This happens when a patient uses painkillers more than it’s recommended, which is no more than two or three times a week, and no more than ten per month.
Interestingly enough, marijuana used to be an official way of treating migraines in the USA back in the 19th century until it was made illegal at the beginning of 20th century.
So, if cannabis was an effective remedy for migraines two centuries ago, why are we still questioning that today?
What are migraines exactly?
A migraine is often confused with a tension headache. Here is how you can tell if you are suffering from one or another:
A headache is an unpleasant feeling of pressure on the forehead or scalp or the back of the neck. The pain can range from mild to severe, lasting from a couple of hours to even a few days, but it occurs on both sides of the head. It’s usually caused by stress and anxiety.
Having a migraine is much worse…
When you have a migraine, you feel pain in one-half of your head, usually followed by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, pain behind one eye, ear or in the temples, light sensitivity and even temporary vision loss.
About a quarter of migraine patients experience a visual disturbance, something like seeing an aura. It’s like seeing geometric patterns and blurred light in your peripheral vision.
Migraines can last from 4 to 72 hours. The latter is exhausting, to say the least.
The real cause of migraines is still unknown. But, scientists assume that genetic and environmental factors play a big role, as well as for example, fatigue and nutrition.
Some sufferers notice how some situations or things trigger a migraine attack, like particular smells, bright light, loud noise, certain medications or lack of sleep.
Also, the statistics point out that women suffer from more migraines than men, which makes scientists suspect that hormones have some kind of influence.
However, we still don’t have a proper answer to that particular question, so let’s not jump to conclusions yet.
Studies on marijuana for migraines
Using marijuana for migraines is still something that attracts the attention of clinicians. Since cannabis has been illegal in most countries worldwide, unfortunately, there is just a few decent studies on the topic.
We still lack a lot of information, but here is what we know so far…
One of the first studies on the topic was published back in 1987.
During the study, the researchers noticed how migraines started occurring in long-time users of marijuana who stopped using the herb.
Their conclusion was simple — marijuana was probably somehow “masking” the pain, which stopped after patients stopped using it.
It was obvious how much we didn’t know about this beneficial plant and how we desperately needed more clinical studies.
One of the recent studies from 2016 was also one of the most important ones by now.
A group of researchers from the University of Colorado conducted an “experiment” on 121 adults who were diagnosed with migraine headaches. Participants from this study were recommended to use migraine medications and marijuana from 2010 to 2014, with regular check ups with the doctors.
The results, as expected, were amazing:
The average number of migraine episodes dropped for almost a half, as a result of using medical marijuana.
About 40% of patients reported positive effects of marijuana on their headache problems. Marijuana also helped in preventing and stopping migraines.
However, most of the patients reported still having mild headaches through the month with using marijuana, but they definitely were not the same as before starting the treatment.
Yet, 12% of participants reported experiencing no change with using marijuana and only 2% noticed having more headaches than usual.
Also, the researchers tried to figure out how marijuana actually works on migraines in a study from 2004. The researcher did not manage to find an answer to that and similar issues, but they did notice something interesting:
85% of patients involved in this clinical trial experienced the reduction of migraines.
So how does marijuana affect migraines?
One group of scientist from the University of California tried to give an answer to this enigma — can marijuana prevent and relieve migraines?
The recently discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our body made a lot of processes in our system more clear.
Our brain produces “marijuana-like compounds” which are capable of changing the pain signals entering the brain. This way only the hurtful pain signals are blocked, but we can still feel a touch or a pinch.
Those scientists predicted that the next generation of painkillers would be made by basically imitating the process of marijuana’s effect on the pain.
There is now even a group of drugs especially used for treating migraines and headaches called triptans, which activate those marijuana-like chemicals in our brain.
This opens a whole new door for the next generation of migraine medications and makes ECS a possible solution. However, it’s still difficult to produce a cannabis-based medication which does not interfere with our mind in any way.
As you know, cannabis has been used in treating all sorts of different medical conditions such as nausea (for example, in cancer patients going through chemotherapy). Vomiting and nausea are typical side symptoms of migraines, so marijuana can help ease them.
Also, marijuana is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, easing muscle tension and cramps. Individuals suffering from migraines may also feel the tension at the back of their neck, so by taking marijuana, those unpleasant symptoms could go away.
Indica or sativa for migraines?
Back in 1892 while marijuana was still a legal migraine medicine, Canadian doctor William Osler once wrote:
“Cannabis Indica is probably the most satisfactory remedy for migraines.”
In general, Indica strains have more THC than CBD, which provides you with relaxing properties helping your body recover from pain, anxiety and sleeping disorders.
Also, Indica dominant strains (depending on THC content) have a very strong body high.
Overall, Indicas are also good if you have sleeping problems or insomnia due to your migraines.
Usually, after a short period of head high, it will put you to deep and relaxing sleep. That’s why professionals recommend using this strain before going to bed and nighttime, in general.
Sativas are also used in medicine but for treating different issues.
Sativa dominant marijuana is usually packed with THC and is good as an antidepressant, for treating anxiety and other psychological problems. This strain would usually keep you awake without putting you to sleep.
Strains high in CBD and moderate in THC also have painkilling properties. We will discuss this later in the article.
Can marijuana cause migraines?
As I mentioned before, during some studies, a small percentage (around 2%) of patients reported having slightly more migraines after using marijuana.
However, most patients report positive outcome like having fewer migraines or not at all.
On the other hand, taking a large amount of marijuana before going to sleep can have some undesirable effects the next morning. Nobody wants to wake up feeling hungover and sleepy.
The trick is simple — don’t exaggerate.
With every new strain you try, start with a few puffs until you hit the right dosage and you probably will not have additional headaches.
Best strains and edibles for migraines
Marijuana affects every individual differently, so you’ll have to do a little testing of your own to find which strain would be the most effective for your migraine.
However, you should keep in mind that one strain may not have an expected effect in treating your migraine, while another may be very effective indeed.
As we discussed before, THC has very strong painkilling properties, so it’s recommended to start your journey with Indica-dominant strains.
On the other hand, there are also some very good CBD strains (that still have a bit of THC) which are very effective in relieving migraine pain.
These CBD strains have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be efficient for treating migraines. High CBD strains are also are a great choice for a daytime use since they will not get you stoned, so you can go about your day.
There are hundreds of different strains out there. Finding the right one may take time. So, here are some strains to help you start your migraine-free journey.
Purple Urkle (THC 20%)
This classic Indica strain has very high THC levels, so only a few puffs would be enough to relieve you from your pain. If you try this strain you should also expect a heavy “couch-lock” effect. It even makes you want to take a nap immediately, so use it wisely and at night.
Blue Dream (THC 17-24%)
Blue Dream provides a calming, yet euphoric feeling. It’s perfect during the day because it will not put you down to sleep as classic Indicas. Blue Dream has a very pleasant fruity-sweet flavor. Also, it’s good for preventing nausea, as a common side symptom of migraines.
Chocolope (THC 18-21%)
This is actually a Sativa strain with high THC content, but very effective when it comes to reducing the migraine pain. It’s perfect for working days, since it’s very energizing. Take smaller doses at first, especially if you are a beginner, it’s very potent!
White Widow (THC 18-25%)
White Widow is very popular strain from Amsterdam and is very well known for its painkilling properties. As a hybrid, it will not calm you down as a classic Indica, on the contrary, it will make you uplifted. It’s perfect for everyday use since it enables you to maintain a sense of mental awareness. White Widow is also great for easing muscle tension at the back of your neck.
OG Kush (THC 19-26%)
This one is a great strain for fighting stress-caused migraines. First, it brings you a wave of euphoria while taking away the pain. Since it’s a very potent strain, beginners users should take it slowly and can expect a couch-lock effect. So, it’s better to use it at night or during the weekend.
Granddaddy Purple (THC 17-23%)
This strain is a great choice for your nighttime migraines since it keeps you fixed on the spot. It makes your body relax and will help you float your mind off from everyday worries, which makes it great for lowering stress levels.
God’s Gift (THC 18-22%)
This a very strong strain made from crossing two popular cannabis painkillers – OG Kush and Granddaddy Purple. And that’s what makes God’s Gift perfect for recovery from the toughest of migraines. It’s best used after a hard day since it will put you to bed after just a few hits.
Stephen Hawking Kush (THC 5%, CBD 5%)
Named after the famous scientist, SHK has been very effective in treating migraine pain so far. With its 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, it has benefits from both cannabinoids. CBD provides energy and non psychoactive properties, while THC kicks the pain away. All in all, a great strain for going through the day.
Canna-Tsu (THC 10%, CBD 10%)
Canna-Tsu is a strain high in both main cannabinoids, making you relax while keeping your mind clear. This strain reduces inflammation which is one of the most common side symptoms of migraines. It’s also one of the favorites among patients suffering from all sorts of pain.
Holy Ghost (THC up to 28%)
One of the most complex hybrid strains, Holy Ghost provides a full marijuana experience while relieves you from the persistent migraine pain. What you can expect with this strain is being relaxed but not stoned, energized and talkative and yet clear-minded. As a beginner, take small steps first, since it’s one of the strongest strains in the world.
Migraines can be awfully annoying.
If the conventional drugs don’t work for you, maybe you’ll find the relief you need with marijuana. Sometimes, even a few hits of a joint will be enough to ease your pain.
If you are worried about smoke irritating your lungs, you can make edibles, such as brownies. Even though eating marijuana takes longer to prepare and digest, the effects are stronger and they last much longer than other conventional consumption methods.
Also, for better results, you can try rubbing some CBD oil in places where you feel pain the most — on your forehead, temples or the back of your neck.