According to Migraine.com, “In the U.S., more than 37 million people suffer from migraines.” A large percentage of them have chronic issues that affect their daily lives.
The World Health Organization ranks migraines as the 19th most common disability, and migraine sufferers “use twice the amount of prescription drugs and visit doctors and emergency rooms twice as often as those who don’t have the disorder.”
What is a Migraine?
A migraine is a complex condition with a number of symptoms including the following:
- Painful headaches
- Disturbed vision
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Problems with coordination
These symptoms can last several hours to several days, and in severe cases reversible paralysis or loss of consciousness can occur. Migraines are triggered by a variety of internal (somatic, physiological) and external (chemical, environmental) variables. People who get migraines are thought to have a genetic predisposition toward having abnormal cells in the brain stem.
Since sufferers often attempt to search for the underlying causes of their disorder, they tend to spend additional healthcare costs on diagnostic testing, lab work, and various prescriptions to find answers.
Can Cannabis be Used as Migraine Treatment
Pain management is the best known medical benefit of cannabis, most notably of the cannabinoid CBD, which is thought to have analgesic properties that may help reduce a patient’s dependence prescription opiates as well as manage a host of negative side effects. Patients also use cannabis to help them sleep, stimulate their appetite, and manage mood and anxiety levels.
Migraine sufferers can experience debilitating pain, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms are potentially manageable with cannabis due to the anti-emetic (vomit and nausea-preventing), anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties associated with specific cannabinoids, including THC and CBD.
A team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco published a study in The Journal of Neurosciencecentered around the endocannabinoid system and its role in the treatment of migraine headaches. According to their findings, the activation of cannabinoid receptors in the brain may help modulate pain signals.
The research team was comprised of five Department of Neuorology members called the ‘Headache Group’. Knowing that cannabinoids have been tied to the perception of neuropathic pain, the researchers wanted to see if they would have similar success treating the throbbing nature of migraine headaches.
Endocannabinoids May Help Relieve Migraine Headaches
The Headache Group investigated the ‘periaqueductal’ gray matter, the part of the brain that modulates the descending nature of pain, in rats. In particular, they measured the activity of pain receptors and nerve fibers associated with headaches.
‘A delta fibers’ are nerves that respond to cold and pressure. According to the abstract of the Headache Group’s study, activation of the CB1 receptor reduced the amount of A delta fibers by as much as 19%, but there was no change in sensory information from skin on the face. This suggests that the pressure relief was the result of nervous system interactions.
“The underlying mechanism of migraine relief may involve an interaction between cannabinoid and serotonin receptors.”
Another bit of proof for CB1-induced migraine relief was discovered when the Headache Group realized that the inhibition of the cannabinoid receptor prevented a decrease in pressure A delta fibers. As the researchers learned, the mechanism that underlies migraine headaches is quite complicated.
Triptans are a family of medicines used to temporarily relieve migraines that are thought to affect serotonin receptors. However, the Headache Group found that the underlying mechanism of migraine relief may involve an interaction between cannabinoid and serotonin receptors in certain areas of the brain. Due to this, the Headache Group believes the endocannabinoid system may be involved in triptan-related relief as well.
As with treating any condition with cannabis, there are a number of factors to consider, including confounding ailments, dose, administration and strain, socio-economics, previous experience with cannabis, and the use of other substances such as prescription medication, tobacco, and alcohol. The best thing to do is make an appointment with a family doctor or visit a local cannabis clinic for the best medical advice.