Ever get the kind of pain where your head feels like it’s locked in a vice grip? And the pressure around your head and neck just won’t let up? You’re not alone. It’s estimated that as many as 1.4 billion folks in the U.S. experience this kind of pain, commonly known as a tension, or stress, headache.
Tension headaches can flare up at any time, typically when you’re exposed to stress, either physical or mental. Maybe you’ve pulled one too many all-nighters, your workload has doubled, or you just haven’t had enough to eat. All of these things can set off a tension headache as can anxiety, depression, and even poor posture or tight muscles in your head, neck and shoulders.
As it happens, cannabis has been used to treat headaches dating back as far as the second millennium BCE. It was an established headache remedy in the U.S. from 1839 until 1937, when the government made the plant illegal. During this time, distinguished doctors who touted cannabis’s effectiveness included Silas Weir Mitchell, then president of the NY Neurological Society, and William Gowers, considered a founding father of modern neurology.
Fast forward to today, and cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, making peer-reviewed, clinical studies on the plant’s efficacy extremely challenging. That said, a number of preliminary studies along with plenty of anecdotal evidence point to marijuana as a good option for relieving headaches—not to mention its various triggers.
Following are our team’s go-to cannabis strains for easing the pain in their noggin.
Dmitry B., marketing videographer/editor: “My favorite cannabis strain to help with tension headaches is OG Kush, because it comes on fast and is very cerebral. It contains high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for effective pain relief. So, the combination of potency, rapid onset and the cerebral high of OG Kush basically makes it possible for me to combat any headache.
“OG Kush has a very distinct aroma and smell. OG Kush tastes really fruity, punchy. You can definitely taste the diesel in there.
“When it comes to OG Kush, don't overdo it. I’d suggest consuming OG Kush at the end of the day. And don't overmedicate because it could have the reverse effect and make the headache flare up again. Instead, go low and slow. Take one to three puffs, depending on your tolerance level, and see how you feel.”
Ryan G., customer service lead: “I really enjoy Jack Herer, because it's very fast-acting and an effective pain reliever. This is one of the more reliable marijuana strains. It's not only uplifting and energetic, but because it's a sativa, it allows me to go about my day and do things that I need to get done. I don't feel couch-locked as I would if I took an indica.
“When I smoke Jack Herer, it takes effect within 10 minutes. So, if you smoke it or use a flower vaporizer, I find that it tends to be more effective—stronger and heavier—than using an oil cartridge.
“Jack Herer, which tastes and smells very piney with notes of citrus, is a cannabis strain that I’d recommend for all experience levels. Of course, if you're a novice user, you should go slow and take care, because certain Jack Herer strains are a little bit on the potent side.”
Veronica B., customer service specialist: “I’ve been very fortunate in that I don’t experience headaches very frequently. However, if the pain starts pounding in my head, I like to turn to an indica-dominant strain to alleviate the symptoms. Chemdawg is the perfect cannabis strain for me as it provides strong cerebral effects, but also a full body relaxation to distract me from my headache.
“Chemdawg has a gasoline smell, with flavors that are earthy, woody, reminiscent of pine. This is a potent strain, so novice cannabis consumers should start with a small amount.
“Upon consumption, you can expect to feel relaxed from head to toe. Depending on the patient, Chemdawg can be a great choice for day or night. In any case, the headaches will no longer be a nuisance.”
Kevin P., customer service specialist: “I tend to prefer CBD-rich (cannabidiol-rich) strains, specifically Harlequin when I'm experiencing headaches—and I’m a seasoned cannabis user, so I’m comfortable with THC.
“Harlequin is unique for two different reasons. First, it's almost always at 5:2 or more commonly a 3:1 ratio, meaning three-parts CBD to one-part THC. It's also sativa dominant with that little bit of THC that's in there.
“When I have a headache, I’m trying to relieve the pain and also that foggy feeling that I get with a headache. So, something like a 3:1 has just enough CBD to relieve the pain, with just enough THC to amplify that painkilling ability. But it’s also just enough THC to distract from the headache without leaving me stoned.
“When I experience a headache, I don't burn Harlequin. Because the last thing I want to do is be coughing all of the time, since that amplifies the pain in my head. So, I use a Pax device. I'll grind up the flower and then vaporize it, so it's a lot smoother. It's a lot easier to medicate that way.
“In terms of taste and smell, you definitely get some earthiness and sweetness with Harlequin. I want to say that there's a little bit of mango in it, but it really does depend on the batch.”
Nik S., customer service specialist: “My favorite marijuana strain to relieve tension headaches is Gelato because of the hybrid effect that it provides. Gelato provides good feelings; it's not such a heavy couch-locker, and it's going to also give you those euphoric feelings.
“And it tastes like gelato. It takes very creamy depending on the phenotype. There's the #25, #33, #41, #45—those are the popular ones. And the 25, 33 and also the 45 are going to taste very creamy. The 41 is going to have that creamy taste as well, but also a little bit of like kind of a nutty taste as well. It's very flavorful.
“When Gelato first takes effect, it brings on the feeling of an indica: You may feel kind of slow at first. But then, it starts to balance out with the sativa effects. It kills the pain. In terms of how much to consume, I think it just depends on the person and how great your pain is.
This cannabis strain isn’t for beginners. It’s definitely for the more experienced consumer. If a novice user wanted to try it, you may be able to find lighter versions of Gelato. There may be some indoor varieties that may not be grown to yield as much THC.”
Bart S., customer service specialist: “With tension headaches, I would do a high-CBD cannabis strain like ACDC. And I’d do that with an indica like Granddaddy Purple. Granddaddy Purple—really almost any indica strain—helps me when I have a migraine. I prefer Granddaddy Purple, because of the taste and flavor, which is like a piney berry. It puts me to sleep, and I’ll wake up without a migraine.
“But for tension headaches, ACDC, which has a 3:1 ratio of CBD to THC, is a good choice. I’d dab it, because it’s a lot stronger; as a dab, it’s a more concentrated form of cannabis. When I have a tension headache, I want to take care of it quickly. I don’t really want to take the chance of smoking a bowl and having it not work. I want to attack the headache right away.”