Can Cannabis Reduce Migraines?

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Added 14 July 2022

If you have ever suffered migraine headaches, you already know how tough they can be to deal with. And while some people may find relief with OTC drugs, many often don’t. They resort to their own remedies — like a strong cup of coffee, meditation, or binaural beats — and some use cannabis.

Many people use CBD to relieve migraines and other issues but very few know that the combination of THC and CBD can be even more powerful.

If you ever used cannabis for migraines you already know that it reduces them to a great extent. 

Most users consume just CBD oils to relieve migraines but you can reduce migraines more effectively if you combine THC and CBD. However, you should know that the combination works according to the dosage you use. In addition, the ratios will determine how effective it is.

Of course, cannabis works for some people, but can it work for you, and what does the research say about cannabis? In this article, you will find all you need to know about cannabis and migraines.

About Migraine: Symptoms and Possible Causes

migraine headache

Migraine is a neurological condition that affects 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men around the world. It is infamous for inducing moderate to severe headaches that can last from a few hours to a week. 

Its most common symptoms include nausea, fatigue, sensitivity to noise and light, visual disturbances, difficulty speaking, confusion, mood swings, etc. 

However, not a lot is known about what causes migraines. Some scientists think some factors may trigger it, such as:

  • Beginning of the menstruation cycle
  • Stress or tiredness
  • Certain foods or drinks
  • Loud noises 
  • Other physical factors
  • Changing weather
  • Medications

Some studies also point out that migraines could be linked to serotonin signaling in the brain. 

Understanding why migraines occur will help you deal with them in a better manner. If you're clueless about migraines, just know that they are not your typical headache. Some types of headaches can be a symptom of an upcoming migraine, but all migraines don't come with headaches.

You could experience headaches for various reasons. For example, there could be some tension in your jaw. Or, it could be sinus. It could also be a result of a pinched nerve that leads to debilitating headaches. 

It could also occur because of hormonal changes, especially during menstrual cycles or if there's some change in your lifestyle. For example, consuming too much alcohol can also increase the intensity and frequency of migraines. 

For some people, migraines occur when they overwork themselves with very little sleep. In other words, stress can cause them. Cluster headaches also occur when there's some overactivity in parts of your brain.

So why do migraines occur? Well, it's anybody's guess because it depends on the individual that is suffering from it. There are various reasons so it's challenging to point out one particular reason.

Medical science hasn't progressed enough to determine why only certain people suffer from migraines. Others don't get migraines even if they drink a lot of alcohol or do anything that can trigger migraines. Therefore, it becomes difficult for people with chronic conditions to get help. Since they can't determine the exact cause of the migraines, it can be challenging for physicians to treat them.

In conclusion, it's apparent that the nerves fire in different parts of the brain for reasons unknown. Known as CSD or Cortical Spreading Depression, it alters the blood vessels present in the brain and also causes inflammation, leading to a headache.

It can be scary and worrying when you suffer from migraines, even if you've got it only a few times in your life. One major problem is that migraines can translate to other issues including loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, and a host of other problems that interfere with your daily routine.

What Medications are Commonly Used to Treat Migraines?

pills to treat migraines

A class of medications called triptans are commonly prescribed to treat migraines. These FDA-approved medications do help to reduce migraines to an extent. Common names of various triptan medications include sumatriptan, naratriptan, eletriptan, zolmitriptan, rizatriptan, frovarriptan, almotriptan, etc.  

Available in three forms such as shots, nasal sprays, and pills, they work to reduce the pain. You could also find skin patches if you search for them. Most people find that oral medications work better than other types.

As mentioned already, finding the root cause of migraines can be puzzling in many cases. However, triptans work in various ways. First, they constrict the blood vessels present in your brain. Next, they reduce inflammation and also block pain pathways. In other words, triptan works to soothe the brain.

You'll have to consult with your physician to consume the exact medicine since various types of triptans work in different ways. For example, sumatriptan works best when you consume it immediately after you sense a symptom of a migraine. It's important to take it at the very first onset as it doesn't work as intended if you delay it.

Most physicians commonly prescribe triptans although they leave the patient with nasty side effects including nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and even unconsciousness in severe cases. This doesn't mean that you should stop taking triptans because they actually work. If you want to get rid of the pain immediately, triptans work as an effective solution.

Talk to your physician if it is becoming too much to deal with the side effects or if the triptans aren't working for you. There are various other medications you can use to help with migraines. But, again, there will be side effects. 

Some physicians will rely on pain management alone to treat migraines if you cannot handle the triptans. However, it could be very tough to deal with migraines all your life if you depend solely on pain management.

If your migraines are not too severe, you can rely on other medications that are available over the counter such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. However, it's best to consult with your doctor to be on the safer side since consuming too much of any of these medications can cause severe side effects in the long run. For instance, an overdose of acetaminophen can trigger kidney and liver issues along with stomach aches.

How do CBD and THC Work to Reduce Migraines?

cannabis flower

THC and CBD are powerful cannabinoids. They not only can reduce pain but they also bring down the inflammation in several parts of the body including your brain.

Scientists have conducted a lot of research on the effectiveness of THC and CBD regarding migraines. And many clinical trials have served to prove the effectiveness of using both THC and CBD together or as standalone medications to reduce the pain associated with migraines.

Due to the side effects involved, many people look for alternative medications to control their migraines. And one of them is cannabis.

Cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system present in the body.

Your brain consists of the endocannabinoid system — a network of cannabinoid receptors — that affect various functions of your body, including pain. These receptors are made up of tiny protein loops.

Cannabis also contains natural compounds known as cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, which are concentrated in the resin. 

When you consume cannabis, these cannabinoids enter your body and bind to the cannabinoid receptors, interacting with them and causing various effects, like making you feel high.

One of the other effects of these cannabinoids is that they calm down the pain signals within the endocannabinoid signals, alleviate feelings of nausea or anxiety, muscle spasms, etc. This is why cannabis is used to treat various ailments like chronic pain, anxiety, depression, seizures, etc. 

Cannabis has various medicinal benefits, but migraines are unlike other ailments and not a lot is known about its causes, treatments, etc. 

The ECS contains receptors such as CB1 and CB2 that regulates how your body responds to stress. It is also responsible for controlling dopamine levels, and how the immune system performs. 

While THC can interact with both receptors CBD can interact only with CB2 receptors. This action prevents the activation of receptors that block pain.

You feel pain when CB1 and CB2 are activated. However, if THC or CBD interacts with these receptors first there is a high chance that it can reduce the pain. In addition, the dopamine will also stay in your body while the immune system becomes stronger.

In a way, both cannabinoids work like triptans. Like triptans, THC and CBD are also 5-HT receptor agonists. Once the receptors are inhibited, the nerves fail to get the message that there's pain. In addition, activating 5-HT receptors could also prevent migraines in the future.

Furthermore, some studies show that THC and CBD could also reduce migraine frequency in the long run. Even the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine alluded to cannabis' role in reducing migraines

However, we need more clinical trials and studies to get more information about this subject.

As mentioned before, consuming CBD oil as a standalone medication may work; however, you will get better results if you combine both CBD and THC, also known as full-spectrum oils. 

Full spectrum oils contain a large number of cannabinoids from the entire cannabis plant, thereby making it more efficient than broad spectrum and isolates. 

Isolates such as CBD contain only CBD. Broad spectrum oils are a combination of CBD and other cannabinoids sans THC. Full spectrum oils contain THC, CBD, and all other cannabinoids. However, if you do not want to consume THC at all, you can go for broad-spectrum oils or extracts.

Research on Cannabis’ Effect on Migraines

research on migraines

Scientists are still trying to figure out migraines and not a lot of research has been conducted on the link between cannabis and migraines. However, some small studies have shown that cannabis may help those suffering from migraines. 

For example, a University of Colorado study, conducted on 121 individuals suffering migraines, showed that cannabis helped some of the patients.

According to the study, cannabis consumption reduced the frequency of migraine attacks in 103 people, and 11.6% experienced symptom alleviation. However, 11.9% of the subjects also experienced various side effects like fatigue, bad trips, and difficulty controlling the dosage. 

Another recent study based on 279 patients suffering from migraines found that 88.3% of them experienced improvement due to cannabis. And half of the patients even experienced reduced intensity and frequency of attacks while reducing their opioid medication intake. 

So far, the research on cannabis' effect on migraines seems to point in various directions. To tackle this, experts conducted a review of the literature on cannabis and migraines. A review in 2021 found that overall, many patients experienced positive effects and relief by using cannabis, but some also experienced adverse effects.

Apart from the studies, you will also find various stories on the internet of people who found cannabis to be helpful. These anecdotal reports and small-scale studies do offer hope, but they are not enough for a conclusive answer. 

Due to restrictive laws regarding cannabis, experts haven’t been able to perform large-scale clinical trials to confirm any claims. While the above-mentioned studies show cannabis can be helpful for many people, many questions are still unanswered. 

For example, what is the right cannabis dosage, mode of consumption, strain, CBD or THC, or formulations that work best for migraines?

Possible Benefits of Cannabis Against Migraines

effect of cannabis on migraines

Experts are also unsure of how cannabis helps those that it helps. But there are a few possible explanations, such as the following.

1. Cannabis’ Benefits Against Migraine Symptoms

As mentioned above, cannabis has various medicinal benefits, like it can alleviate nausea, depression, inflammation, etc. These are also the major symptoms of migraines. 

So, cannabis’ medicinal benefits may work against migraines, too. While cannabis may not alleviate migraines, it can still help some people by alleviating its adverse symptoms of it. 

For example, cannabis’ antidepressant effects can help migraine patients deal with depression and anxiety that may come with experiencing migraine attacks. Also, cannabis’ antiemetic effects can regulate nausea and vomiting during migraine attacks. CBD can also regular pain and inflammation in the head.

2. Cannabis is an Alternative to Anandamide

Some research states that migraines may be caused due to anandamide deficiencyAnandamide is a human endocannabinoid that acts as a neurotransmitter, affecting the brain’s pleasure, movement, sensory perception, and memory zones. And the lack of it may cause migraines.

Fortunately, anandamide resembles tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — a primary cannabinoid in cannabis — so when you consume cannabis, THC may make up for the lack of anandamide, alleviating the symptoms of migraines. 

3. Cannabis can Regulate Serotonin Levels

As mentioned earlier, migraines may also be linked to the serotonin levels in the brain. Studies have shown that serotonin levels in the brain fluctuate during a migraine attack

Here, THC and CBD can influence the production of serotonin and serotonin inhibitors in the brain. This regulates the levels of serotonin, which can alleviate migraine attacks or prevent them from occurring. 

4. Cannabis Also Acts as a Vasoconstrictor

Some experts also believe that migraines could be caused due to narrowing or widening of the blood vessels around the brain, causing severe headaches. This, again, is linked to serotonin as it can cause contractions of the arteries. 

And studies have found that cannabis also causes a vasoconstrictive effect on the arteries, which could help alleviate the symptoms of migraines.

Possible Side Effects of Cannabis 

Since not a lot is known about cannabis’ effect on migraines, there isn’t a standard way to consume cannabis. So, there is a risk of side effects when you use cannabis to alleviate migraine attacks.

Some of the common side effects include:

  • Feelings of apathy
  • Memory loss
  • Lung cancer due to smoke
  • Impacted problem-solving ability
  • Potential to induce dependency 

Also, not knowing how to consume cannabis can lead to some other problems, such as the following:

  • Bad trips
  • Hallucination
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Abnormal heart rate, etc.

In rare cases, improper and overuse of cannabis can also cause reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, where the blood vessels in the brain contract, causing severe headaches. This is known as a rebound headache that many people feel when they try to use cannabis to alleviate migraines. In short, cannabis can make your migraines worse if you don't use it properly. 

Use Cannabis the Right Way

start cannabis on a low dose

These side effects do not mean that cannabis will not work for you. You need to try it for yourself. Each person’s body is unique, and you never know if cannabis is right for you until you try it. 

However, given the side effects, you must use cannabis the right way to avoid the adverse effects that can make matters worse for you. Here are a few tips on using cannabis to deal with migraines.

Start with a Low Dosage

Since you don’t know what dosage will work for you and how much can make your headache worse, it is best to start with a low dosage and titrate upwards. This will take some trial and error, but it will ensure that you avoid the adverse effects and rebound headaches.

That’s not all. Too much dosage can also build your tolerance to cannabis, prompting you to increase the dosage further. Increased tolerance can also diminish the effects over time and cause more rebound headaches and build cannabis dependency.

So, it is best to take a low dose of cannabis. You can take a small CBD dose in the morning and a low THC dose before bed. 

Inhaling cannabis tends to produce effects a lot faster than edibles, so you should consume edibles to prevent migraines and vape cannabis for instant relief. 

Consult with Your Doctor 

Not all cannabis products are the same — they come in various forms and concentrations. So, if you want to try cannabis to deal with migraines, you should first consult your doctor to help you make an informed decision and choices. 

A professional can guide you with the type of cannabis, dosage, and other factors so that you only experience the benefits and not side effects. 

Best THC:CBD Ratio to Control Migraines

Before we begin, note that most people rely on oils or extracts to control the ratios. But if you love smoking or vaping cannabis instead of consuming oils and other edibles, you can look for seeds that contain the perfect ratio you require. There are a variety of seed banks offering various ratios to suit you.

If you want to take the route of isolates, you can consume CBD oil regularly after consulting your physician. Talking to your doctor will also help you understand the required dose since the effectiveness depends on its dosage. 

However, if you want to experience the effects of the full plant and don't mind THC, you can go for 1:3 CBD:THC, which means you need to consume edibles or extracts containing one part of CBD and three parts of THC. Be cautious before consuming high amounts of THC and make sure you do it only under the advice of your physician.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio just so you know your body is accepting it. CBD will also work to reduce a lot of the psychoactive effects produced by THC. Once you’re sure you’re okay with the ratio, you can scale it up slowly. 

In addition, you can pair other supplements like melatonin and magnesium to help with your migraines. Melatonin will help if you’re having trouble sleeping, so ensure you take it just before you hit the bed. 

Summary: Can Cannabis Reduce Migraines?

Cannabis is amazing and has the potential to help millions of people deal with their ailments, including migraines. But more clinical research is required to figure out exactly what’s best for migraine patients. 

Until then, you need to treat cannabis as a supplement and not a medicine for your migraines. Consult your doctor, start with a low dose, and research well before making any decisions. 

And until science has proven the benefit of cannabis, you can still make some choices to improve your migraines, such as the following:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Sleep well
  • Figure out what your triggers are — food, light, sound, etc.
  • Avoid triggering factors as much as you can
  • Maintain a healthy diet 
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Limit your alcohol intake

Migraines can be difficult to deal with, but there is hope. Let’s wait for it. 




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