The use of medical cannabis as a medicine dates back as far as 1500 BCE, but it wasn’t until the 1800’s that it was introduced to Western cultures.  It was brought to the West for the therapeutic potential in treating a wide variety of ailments. Not long after its introduction to the west, Sir William Osler (deemed the ‘Father of Medicine’) presented the idea that cannabis had the potential to treat migraine headaches.  The status of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug has presently hindered the research needed to answer all of the ongoing medical questions surrounding cannabis and migraine headaches.

What is a migraine?

A migraine headache is different than a regular headache.  Migraines can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on the side of the head.  Other symptoms of migraines include nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours or days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities.  Many people simply cannot function when in the throes of a migraine.

For most, ‘warning signs’ will appear when a migraine is about to happen.  Visual disturbances such as flashes of light or blind spots, tingling on the side of the face or in an arm or leg, along with trouble speaking, are all a part of the body’s warning bells that a migraine is about to hit.

Though the causes of migraines aren’t completely understood, genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role.  There are many migraine triggers that exist, which may include:

  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Drinks (alcohol and caffeine)
  • Stress
  • Sensory stimuli (bright lights or sun glares)
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Physical exertion
  • Changes in weather
  • Medications
  • Foods (certain foods or fasting)
  • Food additives/preservatives like MSG

How can cannabis help with migraines?

Overall, there have been small studies suggesting improvement of migraines or other types of headaches with the use of medical cannabis.  Medical research about the effects of marijuana uses a variety of components of the plant, as well as a variety of formulations, some of which are ingested in pill form, taken as a liquid oil, or inhaled.  As the public opinion on cannabis continues to be more positive, larger-scale studies about the effects of cannabis for migraines will begin to take place more often. 

One of the larger studies we discovered included 121 adult participants affected by migraines. They used migraine medications along with several forms of medical marijuana, including an edible and an inhaled form.  Of this group of participants, 19.8 percent experienced a decrease in migraine frequency, 11.6 percent experienced improvement of acute migraine attacks, and 11.6 percent experienced side effects.  The most common side effects were tiredness and difficulty controlling the timing and intensity of marijuana.

While these results suggest that marijuana can be helpful for some people with migraines, there are many questions left unanswered. For example, the optimal dosage and timing of consumption are important issues that need to be defined. More of these studies need to be completed to determine which types of migraines are most likely to improve with medical cannabis.

Earlier research has shown that medical cannabis is effective at reducing the frequency of migraines, and it adds to the idea that cannabis compounds are much less risky than pain-killing prescription medications.  What if cannabis could one day supplement opioids as a go-to painkiller, and thereby lessen the burden of opioid addiction? These studies will take some time, but it’s very encouraging that research is moving steadily in the direction of discovering the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

How CBD works to combat migraines

Unlike THC, CBD oil does not have psychoactive properties or effects. It works locally, and even if taken orally, it won’t cause intoxication.  This is ideal for those who don’t wish to feel a high, but still want to take advantage of the benefits of the cannabis plant.

There is no scientific evidence or research on CBD as an effective treatment for migraines in large part because it has not been formally studied.  However, it may still be a viable topical option for some patients with joint and muscle pain associated with migraines. If you have a lot of neck pain or soreness, it is perfectly reasonable to use CBD oil.  It may even prevent nausea and vomiting.

Despite the fact that CBD oil does not elicit the same response as marijuana, cannabis-derived CBD is not legal in all 50 states.  So one side effect of using cannabis-derived CBD (as opposed to hemp-derived CBD) could be the legal ramifications of partaking in using CBD oil in a state where it is not permitted by law. To determine if CBD is legal in the state where you live, visit Americans for Safe Access.

CBD works by interacting with the body’s cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2).  Though the mechanisms aren’t fully understood, the receptors can affect every major system of the body.  For example, CBD may prevent the body from creating anandamide. The compound anandamide is associated with pain regulation.  Maintaining high levels of anandamide in your bloodstream may reduce your feelings of pain. CBD is also thought to limit inflammation within the body, which may also help reduce pain and other immune-system responses.

For patients interested in CBD oil for the acute treatment of migraines, it is important to ensure that you are using a pure product like the CBD products at Hightops Medical Cannabis Dispensary in Colorado Springs.  You are most likely to receive a pure and safe product in states where CBD oil is legal and grown. Your local Hightops dispensaries will also be of use in educating you on the origin and quality of the products sold.

We advise against obtaining any cannabis product in states where CBD oil is not currently legal or regulated. Illegal forms of CBD oil have the potential to be contaminated with artificial THC, causing harm to patients. Additionally, there are legal implications if you attempt to purchase it where it is currently illegal, so it’s very important to speak with your healthcare provider and check your local and state laws.  If you are here in Colorado Springs, stop into your nearest Hightops and discover our top recommendations for THC and CBD options that will improve your overall quality of life while helping to combat migraine headache attacks.