Migraine headache is one of the most common health issues in the world, right after dental caries and tension headaches.
Chronic migraines can really affect the quality of everyday life, and it’s estimated that about 12% of the worldwide population suffers from them. (1) The 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.
Pharmaceutical drugs commonly used for relieving migraines are effective, but only for some patients. And while they do seem to help to some extent, drugs for this specific type of pain can have a number of unwanted side-effects.
Up until today, the pharmaceutical industry failed to develop a medication which helps every patient. The most common treatments for migraines usually revolve around traditional painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
A typical side-effect of taking such painkillers is a condition called “medication-overuse headache”. This happens when a patient uses a higher than recommended dose, which is no more than two or three times a week, and no more than ten per month.
As of recently, frustrated migraine patients are turning to a more natural remedy — medical marijuana.
Marijuana used to be the official way of treating migraines in the USA back in the 19th century and that went on until it was made illegal at the beginning of 20th century.
What are migraines?
Migraine is one of the most common brain disorders and is a term used to describe people with frequent headaches that occur at least 15 times per month.
Migraine is often confused with a normal, tension headache.
Normal headache is an unpleasant feeling of pressure on the forehead, scalp or the back of the neck. The pain can range from mild to severe, lasts from a couple of hours to a few days, and is symmetrical in nature. It is usually caused by stress and anxiety.
When you have a migraine, you feel pain in one-half of your head, usually followed by symptoms like nausea and vomiting, pain behind one eye, ear or in the temples, sensitivity to light and even temporary vision loss in extreme cases.
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, like for every other unexplained condition out there.
Chronic migraine patients might 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.
Studies on marijuana for migraines
Discovering the effects marijuana has on migraines is a growing point of interest for many clinicians. However, since cannabis is illegal (on a federal level) in most countries worldwide, there are just a few decent studies on this 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. In it, the researchers set about to discover why one group’s decreased cannabis consumption resulted in an increase in onset of chronic migraines.
Their conclusion was simple — marijuana was probably somehow “masking” the migraines all the time, a mechanism that stopped after subjects stopped using cannabis. (2)
One of the recent studies, from 2016, is also one of the most important ones for our topic.
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 in combination with medical marijuana from 2010 to 2014, with regular check-ups.
The results were promising, as the average number of migraine episodes dropped as a result of using medical marijuana.(2)
Around 40% of patients said that using marijuana had positive effects on their levels of pain and that it aided in preventing migraines.
Most of the remaining patients said that they still got mild headaches, but that their headaches were not of the same intensity as before they started with their medical marijuana regiment.
A total of 12% of participants reported no change whatsoever with marijuana therapy and only 2% reported an increase in headache frequency.
In one 2004 study, the researchers tried to figure out the mechanism of action of marijuana on migraines. The researchers did not manage to find a definitive answer to the question in hand, but they did notice something interesting:
85% of patients involved in this clinical trial experienced a reduction in migraine frequency. (3)
Indica or sativa for migraines?
Back in 1892, while marijuana was still a recognized migraine medicine, William Osler, a Canadian physician and one of the founding professors of Johns Hopkins, stated:
“Cannabis indica is probably the most satisfactory remedy for migraines.”
Also, indica dominant strains (depending on the THC content) produce a very strong body high, and are also great if you have sleeping problems or insomnia due to your migraines.
Indica strains will, after a quick head buzz, put you to deep and relaxing sleep. That’s why weed friendly doctors and cannabis professionals recommend indica strains the most for nighttime use.
Sativa strains are also used in medicine, but for treating different issues.
Sativa dominant marijuana strains are also usually packed with THC and are good for treating depression, lack of energy and sluggishness. Sativa is highly likely to keep you awake and alert, and is best used during the day.
Most importantly, there are indica and sativa strains with high CBD levels which bring the best of both worlds: very few psychoactive effects with a wide array of health benefits.
Can marijuana cause migraines?
According to several studies, around 2% of patients reported an increase in migraine frequency after using marijuana.
Most patients report positive outcomes, like having fewer migraines or not at all.
Consuming large amounts of marijuana before sleep can produce some undesirable effects the next morning. Nobody wants to wake up feeling groggy and sleepy.
The key to this is getting the dosage right — take it easy the first few times around.
With every new strain you try, start with just a few puffs and increase the dosage until you get it right. That way, you are minimizing the unwanted side-effects by making sure that you get just enough of your medicine.
Best strains and edibles for chronic 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. There are hundreds of different strains out there and while finding the right one may take time. To help you out, I compiled a list of 10 strains to help you start your migraine-free journey.
Purple Urkle (THC 20%)
This classic indica has very high THC levels, so only a few puffs will be enough to relieve you from your pain. If you try this strain you should also expect a heavy “couch-lock” effect. It will even make you want to take a nap immediately, so use it wisely and at night.
Blue Dream (THC 17-24%)
Blue Dream provides a calming and euphoric feeling. It’s perfect during the day because it will not put you down to sleep as a classic indica. Blue Dream has a very pleasant fruity-sweet flavor. Also, it’s good for preventing nausea, a common companion to migraines.
Chocolope (THC 18-21%)
Chocolope is actually a sativa with high THC content, but is 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, as it’s very potent!
White Widow (THC 18-25%)
White Widow is a 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 forth a wave of euphoria while taking away the pain. Since it’s very potent, beginners should take it slowly and expect a couch-lock effect in the process. You are best off smoking OG Kush at night or during the weekend.
Granddaddy Purple (THC 17-23%)
This strain is a great choice for your nighttime migraines since it will keep you fixed on the spot. It will make your body relaxed and will help you float your mind off from everyday worries, which makes it great for lowering overall 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 so far been very effective in treating migraine pain. With its 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, it offers heaps of benefits from both main cannabinoids. CBD provides energy and non-psychoactive properties, while THC kicks the pain away to where it belongs. 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, helping 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 relieving 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 at 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 and cannabutter. Even though edibles take 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.
- Natoli JL, Manack A, Dean B, Butler Q, Turkel CC, Stovner L, Lipton RB; Global prevalence of chronic migraine: a systematic review; Cephalalgia: an International Journal of Headache; May 2010; 30(5):599-609.
- Rif S. EI‐Mallakh; Marijuana and Migraine; Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. September 1987; 27(8):442-443.
- Rhyne DN, Anderson SL, Gedde M, Borgelt LM; Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population; Pharmacotherapy; May 2016; 36(5):505-10.
- Russo EB; Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other treatment-resistant conditions?; Neuroendocrinology Letters; February 2014; 25(1-2):31-39.