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.
Medical marijuana may be responsible for reducing the number of migraines suffered by patients, according to a new study.
The study, conducted by the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, found that the number of migraine headaches experienced by sufferers dropped substantially per month, from around 10 to around 4, with the use of medical cannabis.
“The frequency of migraine headache was decreased with medical marijuana use,”
the study’s authors concluded.
Positive effects to medical cannabis were felt by almost 40 percent of patients tested, with over 31 percent saying that medical cannabis either prevented or stopped the migraines altogether.
Fewer than 12 percent of patients reported negative feelings from their treatment. The most common complaint among these patients was due to difficulty in controlling the dosage. While there are several different methods of consumption available to cannabis consumers, titration is a problem most prevalent for those participants who used edible forms of cannabis.
The authors of the study acknowledged that the risks and benefits of cannabis use should be discussed by health care providers. The authors also called for an increase in research regarding migraines and medical cannabis therapy.
“Prospective studies should be conducted to explore cause-and-effect relationship and the use of different strains, formulations, and doses of marijuana to better understand the effects of medical marijuana on migraine headache treatment and prophylaxis,”
the study concluded.
The state of Illinois is in the process of implementing a highly regulated medical cannabis program for its sick and ailing citizens. The law, similar to those found in other states, allows participants to possess and consume up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every 14 days. It covers 33 conditions, ranging from Alzheimer’s and ALS to Crohn’s disease, Lupus, and Parkinson’s. It even covers Tourette’s syndrome.
While Illinois’ list of included conditions is longer than that of many other states, patients with serious conditions that they believe are aided by consuming cannabis, but that are not included on the list, have become vocal in the state. In May, the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended the inclusion of 11 additional conditions to the Illinois medical program:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Chronic post-operative pain,
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neuro-Behcet’s autoimmune disease
- Neuropathy (peripheral and diabetic),
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Superior canal dehiscence syndrome
The fate of this list of conditions lies in the hands of governor Bruce Rauner, who must decide by the end of August if he desires to expand the state’s new medical cannabis program.
Maureen Bake, a nurse in Chicago, recently asked,
“What’s it going to take? We don’t want to wait any more. This is not fair. We should have this choice available to us!”
Bake suffers from both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. The former is a recognized medical condition in the state that entitles her to medical cannabis, while the latter is not yet approved.
Illinois resident Tom Surman suffers from three life-altering conditions, all of which are on the pending list: Diabetic neuropathy, PTSD, and migraine headaches.
“I don’t want to be a lawbreaker,” said Surman. “I certainly don’t want to be a lawbreaker…and get caught!”
Dr. Marc Sloan, a pain management physician in Illinois, believes that the additional conditions should be added so that the state’s program can better serve patients throughout the state. Dr. Sloan reported,
“I believe that we should make the drug available to patients that can benefit from it.”
Sloan advocates medical cannabis because he believes it is safer than most conventional pharmaceutical drugs. His primary objection to traditional therapies? “Side effects,” he said. “We have 2013 statistics that report no deaths related to marijuana and we have 18,000 deaths related to prescription opiates.”
Jessica Harshbarger, a medical cannabis advocate in the state, found relief in cannabis after years of suffering with extreme migraine headaches caused by a blood disorder. During a visit to Colorado to visit family, Harshbarger discovered the efficacy of cannabis. Her headaches simply stopped. Regarding her time in Colorado, Harshbarger revealed,
“I didn’t have a single headache the whole trip. I felt fantastic.”
Harshbarger and thousands of others are hopeful that Governor Rauner will approve the list, allowing her to legally consume cannabis to treat her debilitating migraines and maintain an active life with her children. She said she hopes the governor approves the conditions so she’ll “not have to uproot my kids out of school and move away to Colorado or somewhere else. I don’t want to have to be a marijuana refugee.”
Will patients and advocates celebrate a victory because the state decides to include sufferers of the 11 new conditions in its program? Only time will tell. Officially, the conditions are still “under review.”