There are few physical experiences as excruciating as a migraine, which includes a throbbing headache, intense nausea and a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli like light, sounds, flavors, smells or touch. You may even experience visual distortions like bright spots of light partially blocking your range of vision.
A migraine attack can be a frightening and extremely painful experience. For the 37 million people who suffer from migraines, this can be a debilitating condition that gets in the way of everyday life.
In this article, part of a series for folks new to cannabis, we take a look at both anecdotal and research-based evidence on cannabis’s ability to provide patients relief from these often-agonizing headaches. Many patients are also finding that cannabis can prevent their painful migraines.
Jen is one patient whose found cannabis very helpful in easing her migraines. Jen has had painful migraines since she hit puberty and believes they’re related to hormonal changes taking place during her menstrual cycle.
“The [migraines] correlate with my menstrual cycle, and so typically my window for having a migraine is the week before my period, the day before and the day of,” she explains.
For years, these migraines were debilitating. She recalls the last one, saying, “I woke up in the middle of the night, and my eyes just popped open. I thought, ‘I have a headache. No!’” Jen continues, “I count the amount of times I throw up, knowing that eventually I get to a point where I start to feel relief and then I can do things.”
Still, Jen says that she can actually help prevent these headaches, if she takes regular doses of cannabis edibles. “During what I would consider my trigger week, where I could be at risk of getting a headache, I essentially start taking a regular anti-inflammatory,” she says. “The [cannabis edibles] seem to be able to keep me from getting a headache.” And she adds, “There was a lot of trial and error as to what kind of strains really were effective [for me].”
While Jen’s still searching for a solution to reverse her worst headaches once they get started, she says she has fewer migraines now that she takes cannabis as a preventative measure.
Jen is one of a growing number of folks using cannabis successfully to relieve their migraines. In fact, research suggests that cannabis use can significantly reduce the amount of migraines a person experiences. In one study, 85% of patients said they had fewer migraines when they consumed cannabis, with the average number of headaches going down from 10.4 to 4.6 per month.
Cannabis’s effectiveness when it comes to easing migraine pain may be due in part to the plant’s natural pain-relieving properties. Both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have been shown to reduce pain as well as inflammation. In addition, these cannabinoids reduce the body’s natural stress response, which can actually trigger the onset of a migraine.
In addition, cannabis can help raise serotonin levels. While it’s still unclear exactly how serotonin affects migraines, low levels of serotonin are linked to the condition. Some believe that increasing serotonin levels—as is possible through the use of THC—can help ease migraine symptoms.
If you suffer from migraines and think cannabis might be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online.
Whether you have a medical marijuana card or live in a state where you can purchase through recreational means, there are many cannabis options on the market today. Research suggests that a combination of CBD and THC can help prevent migraines, but what ratios and strains work best can vary from person to person. Some prefer a higher level of CBD to reduce the side effects of THC (such as anxiety or feeling too high). Others prefer the heightened pain relief and serotonin-boosting powers of THC, and use more of it relative to CBD.
Researchers have found that patients usually need at least a 200 mg dose of CBD and THC to stop a migraine that has already begun. This is an extremely high dose, so talk to your doctor and proceed carefully. Taking such a mega-dose may be a disorienting experience until your body builds up a tolerance to the psychoactive aspects of THC. If you’re sensitive to THC, make sure to balance it out with plenty of CBD, which reduces THC’s psychoactive effects.
Whatever you try, remember that cannabis can affect people differently, so you may need to try a few options before you find the right one for you.
In the next installment of our Cannabis for Newbies series, we put the spotlight on consuming cannabis as a means of relieving arthritis pain and inflammation.
Photo credit: Ben White