New research shows that cannabis can not only treat migraines and cluster headaches, but do so more effectively compared to conventional treatment.
Dr. Nicolodi, the study author explained,
“We were able to demonstrate that cannabinoids are an alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention. That said, they are only suited for use in the acute treatment of cluster headaches in patients with a history of migraine from childhood on.”
Cannabis to Treat Migraine Pain
Participants in the study suffered from either chronic migraines or cluster headaches. Migraines cause all-over headache pain and nausea as well as a sensitivity to light and sound. Cluster headaches typically cause pain in one area, usually within proximity to the eyes.
Researchers needed to determine the actual dosage they would use in the study. Both THC and CBD was used in varying amounts, but it was determined that participants needed a total of at least 100mg before any relief occurred. A dose of 200mg was needed in order to see significant relief. Once the doses were established, one group was giving a cannabinoid treatment while the other was given antidepressant medications or blood pressure medications that are commonly used for migraine and cluster headache treatment. While those suffering from cluster headaches did not experience significant relief, migraine patients experienced a 43.5 percent reduction in pain.
Traditional Migraine Pain Therapies
The drugs of choice doctors look to when treating migraines and cluster headaches are called triptans. Due to a variety of causes, migraines cause pain by enlarging the blood vessels in the brain. The human body uses serotonin to communicate that pain to the brain. Triptans reduce the levels of serotonin, easing the migraine pain and reducing the swelling of blood vessels. They are most effective when taken the moment migraine symptoms begin to show.
But these drugs aren’t perfect. For many migraine sufferers, triptans can lead to flushing and redness, itchiness, nausea, colitis and upset stomach. Those who have chronic migraines and need to take triptans frequently can suffer from triptan withdrawal, which include many of the symptoms of migraines without the relief from medication. The headache experienced during triptan withdrawal is often referred to as a rebound headache.
The study showed that the side effects from a cannabis treatment were lesser in their severity compared to conventional prescription drugs. Lack of focus and lethargy were the most commonly reported symptoms during cannabis treatment.
Other treatments for migraines and cluster headaches include antidepressants, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and opioid painkillers. Because of the numerous causes of migraines, known and unknown, these treatments may work perfectly in some patients and not at all in others. Patients who find relief in opioids are at risk of addiction, since migraines and cluster headaches are often chronic conditions requiring ongoing treatment.
Finding alternative treatments for migraines could help the 37 million people who suffer from them in the United States. Of those patients, between 2 and 3 million have chronic migraines. Established pharmaceutical treatments help many patients, but those suffering from chronic migraines need medication that does not lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. Cannabis could be that alternative.