Marijuana Could be a Viable Treatment for Migraines for Many
At least in states approving medical marijuana
Yet another study shows the natural healing power of marijuana, and it could give hope to the millions of people who suffer from chronic migraines.
Risks of Migraine Medications
Migraines aren’t just agonizing, they can also be terrifying. That throbbing, crippling pain in your head make some people pass out, and could even increase your risk of stroke, for one thing.
In my early 20’s I had severe migraines on an almost daily basis. Now in my mid-30s, they are few and far between (thank goodness). When I do get one, all I want to do is lock myself in a dark room. Doing anything else makes me incredibly nauseous.
A decade ago, I got rid of my migraines by popping a medication called Zomig. It worked…but it’s not always the best option, especially if you’re on other medications.
Zomig is part of a class of drugs called triptans. Another popular triptan migraine drug you may have heard of is Imitrex. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning in 2006 about a potentially life-threatening condition known as serotonin syndrome that can be caused by taking triptans and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. Just one of many risks.
Serotonin syndrome causes a wide variety of symptoms, including confusion, agitation, mania, hallucinations, headache, coma, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, diarrhea, racing heartbeat, fever, tremor, muscle twitching, shivering, and overactive reflexes.
If left untreated, serotonin syndrome can actually lead to seizures and even death. If you have no idea it exists, you’re less likely to seek help for it, and more likely to think you just have some strange flu.
What The Study Says
That’s why this study is so exciting. More than 120 people diagnosed with migraines who were treated with medical marijuana between January 2010 and September 2014 saw their number of headaches fall from just over 10 to less than 5 per month.
Senior author Laura Borgelt, a professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, called it “a substantial improvement.”
Edible marijuana seemed to work best for migraine prevention, while inhaled marijuana seemed to be the most effective at treating migraines.
For years migraine sufferers have claimed marijuana eased their pain, but this is the first study to substantiate their claims. As with all first-time studies, more research is needed. Clinical trials are unlikely at this point, sadly, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Let’s hope that changes really soon.
Even without the clinical trials, medical marijuana could be a viable option for migraine patients in the 23 states where it’s legal, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington.
Some got better, others got worse.
But researchers say marijuana won’t work for everyone’s migraines. Fifteen study participants experienced no change in their number of headaches, and 3 people said weed made their migraines worse.
The study’s senior author Laura Borgelt, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., said:
“There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better. Like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It’s important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects.”
Scientists aren’t sure why marijuana works to prevent and treat migraines (not that it would likely matter to people who get relief from it). What we know is that there are cannabinoid receptors all through the body, including connective tissues and immune system.
These receptors seem to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Cannabinoids also seem to affect critical neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, and serotonin is believed to play a major role in migraine headaches, according to Borgelt.
Overall, the study concluded with:
“The frequency of migraine headache was decreased with medical marijuana use. Prospective studies should be conducted to explore a 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 is published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.