Inhaling cannabis may reduce headache and migraine pain by half, the new study published in The Journal of Pain, has shown.
The findings follow an analysis of data collected by a Canadian phone app that gathered feedback offered by 1,300 headache sufferers and nearly 700 migraine sufferers who used marijuana to treat their head pain.
“We found that self-reported headache and migraine severity were reduced by nearly 50% from before to after cannabis use,” said study author Carrie Cuttler. She is an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.
But a lot of unanswered questions remain. For one, it’s not clear if pot was any better at cutting down headache pain than conventional medicine.
“We didn’t directly compare cannabis to conventional treatments,” said Cuttler, “so we don’t know if it is more or less effective.”
Cannabis for headaches and migraines
The study, published online recently in the Journal of Pain, is the first to use big data from headache and migraine patients using cannabis in real time.
Previous studies have asked patients to recall the effect of cannabis use in the past. There has been one clinical trial indicating that cannabis was better than ibuprofen in alleviating headache, but it used nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid drug.
Cuttler, the lead author on the paper, said: “We were motivated to do this study because a substantial number of people say they use cannabis for headache and migraine, but surprisingly few studies had addressed the topic.”
Cuttler said: “We wanted to approach this in an ecologically valid way, which is to look at actual patients using whole plant cannabis to medicate in their own homes and environments.
“These are also very big data, so we can more appropriately and accurately generalise to the greater population of patients using cannabis to manage these conditions.”
The study found a small gender difference with significantly more sessions involving headache reduction reported by men (90.0%) than by women (89.1%). The researchers also noted that cannabis concentrates, such as cannabis oil, produced a larger reduction in headache severity ratings than cannabis flower.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), suggested that the findings are not particularly surprising.
“The findings of this study are consistent with several previous studies, as well as with the historical literature,” he said, “as cannabis possesses a long history of human use in migraine treatment.”
On that score, Armentano highlighted two seminal studies: one out of the University of Colorado and a second from Florence, Italy. Both concluded that marijuana use was an effective intervention for providing migraine relief.
Things to Know Before You Toke Up
If you’re planning to give pot a try to fight your headaches, there are some important steps to take beforehand. Don’t forget: Laws surrounding cannabis use vary from state to state. Some states, like California, allow medical and recreational use, while other states only allow medical. States like Virginia allow limited medical use only, and in other states, no type of cannabis use is legal.
And remember, it’s wise to check with your doctor before adding cannabis to your pain relief toolbox to make sure you’re using it safely. To get a medical marijuana card, you’ll need a licensed physician to write you a recommendation.
Once you check the laws and get the all-clear from your doc, it’s important to understand the different types of cannabis available—and which ones were found to be most effective in Dr. Cuttler’s study.
The two main options are marijuana, derived from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant, and cannabis oil, which is obtained from the cannabis plant, per the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington. The main active ingredients in cannabis products, called cannabinoids, are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—this is the part that can get you high—and cannabidiol (CBD).
Cannabis oil, which is more concentrated, resulted in greater drops in headache severity than marijuana, per the study. There was no major different in the amount of pain reduction in participants using various cannabis strains with higher or lower levels of THC and CBD. However, like Dr. Cuttler said, more research needs to be done to further understand how exactly these cannabinoids relieve pain.
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