It is estimated that each year 47% of the population experience some form of headache, many of which are painful and debilitating. Tension headaches are the most common, followed by migraines and chronic daily headaches (cluster headaches). Of these, migraines are considered to be the most debilitating and affect millions of people, with 25% or more sufferers experiencing four or more a month and 35% experiencing one to three severe headaches each month1.
Migraines are defined as throbbing headaches that generally only affect one side of the head. They may be accompanied by other symptoms such as light sensitivity, sensory (seeing flashing lights, or only parts of an object), motor (facial or limb weakness) and verbal disturbances, as well nausea and vomiting.
Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from migraine and 1.25 times more likely to experience tension headaches than men. The economic impact due to both sexes requiring time off work due to migraines and the associated lost productivity is astounding and is estimated to cost the global economy billions of dollars each year2.
Despite the development of specific migraine headache medications (referred to as serotonin 1D-agonist medications), migraines remain a significant health issue and so many in the field of research are devoted to find a potential cure.
In many of these endeavours, modern researchers are consistently confirming the medical applications purported by physicians of old and finding that cannabis does, in fact, offer a number of therapeutic benefits in the treatment of headaches and migraine. Why then is it not yet a mainstream medical treatment? To answer this question, a short history lesson is in order.
Cannabis - An age old headache and migraine cure
The practice of using cannabis to treat headaches is hundreds of centuries old and has been described in ancient manuscripts from all corners of the globe throughout history. Its use was seemingly common in China, India, Egypt, Assyria, Greece and Rome as well as in much of the Islamic world. Later it was adopted by Renaissance and Industrial Age Europeans1.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century many of the world's most prominent physicians advocated the use of Cannabis in the prevention and treatment of headaches and migraines. Sir William Osler, an illustrious physician, professor of medicine at the famous Johns Hopkins University, author of the leading medical textbook, 'The Principles and Practice of Medicine (1892)' and acknowledged father of modern medicine described Cannabis as 'probably the most satisfactory remedy for migraine' and recommended a prolonged course. This statement echoed the sentiments of his many predecessors and supported the use of cannabis as both an acute and prophylactic (preventative) treatment for migraine2.
Despite these facts, not many modern physicians are aware of the prominence that cannabis once held in everyday medical practice. This is largely due to political developments that resulted in cannabis prohibition which in turn led to the signing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 in the United States. Under the act, considerable fines and prison sentences were handed down to anyone distributing cannabis and even hemp for either medicinal or industrial use.
All of this occurred despite strong opposition from the American Medical Association who continued to recommend its use over some pharmaceutical drugs for certain medical conditions, including menstrual migraine up until 1942.
Nevertheless, politically driven agendas also turned the focus of research towards the justification of its prohibition and many countries across the globe followed in banning cannabis use. The justifications for prohibition were reinforced the 1960s when marijuana took centre stage as a recreational drug, and its medical applications became inconceivable to most.
In recent decades, however, with a shift in political climates and relaxed laws around the use of marijuana the world over, the medicinal properties of cannabis have enjoyed renewed interest, both in the medical research field and the public at large.
What modern migraine studies are revealing
While clinical research into cannabis is still in its very early stages, a number of studies into its potential to relieve pain have also revealed its efficacy as a headache and migraine treatment. A headache-specific study conducted by the University of Colorado on 121 participants found that daily cannabis use led to a 50% reduction in the number of migraines experienced on a monthly basis in 40% of the participants. In addition, almost 90% of the subjects reported fewer headaches per month when using cannabis3.
Another study conducted by Italian researchers found that a combination of THC:CBD reduced the intensity of the pain experienced during a migraine by 43.5% and was a viable alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention4.
Why is cannabis helpful for migraines?
There are a number of theories on why cannabis may help to prevent or treat migraines. Recent research has shown that migraines are one of several conditions associated with what is referred to as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
CECD as a condition, refers to exceptionally low levels of endocannabinoids in the body that may contribute to the development of a number of health conditions, including migraines. Endocannabinoids are the body's naturally produced 'cannabis' equivalent. They play an important role in many bodily functions, including pain management.
In cannabis-based migraine research, scientists are currrently investigating the role of the endocannabinoids in order to better understand migraines. In one study, samples obtained from the spinal taps of chronic migraine sufferers revealed that these individuals had abnormally low levels of anandamine (AEA) 5. This endocannabinoid is thought to be the body's natural equivalent of cannabis's THC and plays an integral role in the regulation of pain, mood, cognition, learning, memory, sleep, and nausea, amongst other functions. When levels of anandamine are low, health issues in these areas can develop.
The use of cannabis, and specifically cannabis products containing THC, which has a chemically similar make up to anandamine, mimics the shape of anandamine and can, therefore, replicate its therapeutic effects.
Thanks to its chemical make-up, a combination of THC and CBD from cannabis can also help to relieve migraine symptoms due to its ability to:
- Reduce inflammation: Migraines are associated with excessive inflammation in the brain. Drugs commonly prescribed to treat migraines work to block the chemicals that cause inflammation in the brain. The THC and CBD in cannabis are potent anti-inflammatory cannabinoids that can help to ease the inflammation experienced by migraine sufferers.
- Relieve pain: Cannabis is renowned for is analgesic properties and is, as such, often preferred to prescription painkillers by users.
- Stop nausea and vomiting: Nausea (sometimes accompanied by vomiting) is common with migraines. Cannabis has powerful antiemetic properties, preventing nausea and vomiting. In fact, it is so effective in this regard that is often prescribed to cancer patients in the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.
- Facilitate sleep: Migraine pain is often so intense that it is impossible to sleep. In addition, a lack of sleep is regarded as a potential migraine trigger, which may elevate the risk of subsequent migraines. The sedative properties of cannabis are well documented, and these can be useful when treating migraines.
- Improve mood: Chronic migraines are linked to the development of depression and anxiety. In fact, people who suffer from migraines are five times more likely to develop these types of mental health issues than people who don't experience these types of headaches6. Some research suggests that during a migraine, serotonin levels plummet drastically. Serotonin is they body's 'feel good' hormone and low levels of this are often experienced in those who suffer from depression. This is also the reason why antidepressant medications may be prescribed to people who suffer from chronic migraines. Cannabis, when used at the right, low doses can help to improve mood, treat and prevent anxiety and depression. This is because its compounds, like those in antidepressants also affect serotonin levels and low doses have proven to boost these.
Emerald Health products for migraine
Emerald Health product which are organically sourced from only the finest buds of the exact same strain of the Sativa family every time offer a 2:1 THC to CBD concentration ratio which ensures that the THC and CBD act synergistically for optimum therapeutic effect when treating migraines.
This potent combination acts as both an analgesic and anti-inflammatory while also helping to reduce nausea and vomiting associated with migraines, all of which help to provide immediate and sustained pain relief.
- Lochte B, Beletsky A, Samuel N, Grant I. The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):61-71. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0033
- Russo E. Cannabis for migraine treatment: the once and future prescription? An historical and scientific review. Pain. 1998;76(1):3-8. doi:10.1016/s0304-3959(98)00033-5
- Rhyne D, Anderson S, Gedde M, Borgelt L. Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population. Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy. 2016;36(5):505-510. doi:10.1002/phar.1673
- Nicolodi M, Sandoval V, Torrini A. ePoster Session. Eur J Neurol. 2017;24:123-444. https://www.ean.org/amsterdam2017/fileadmin/user_upload/E-EAN_2017_-_Cannabinoids_in_migraine_-_FINAL.pdf
- Greco R, Demartini C, Zanaboni A, Piomelli D, Tassorelli C. Endocannabinoid System and Migraine Pain: An Update. Front Neurosci. 2018;12. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00172
- The Link Between Migraine, Depression, and Anxiety | AMF. American Migraine Foundation. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/link-between-migraine-depression-anxiety/. Accessed March 28, 2019.