Medical marijuana and migraines appear to now be having their day, as legalization and knowledge of the cannabis plant’s analgesic properties are spreading. Many migraine sufferers use marijuana for migraines by smoking or vaping, as these are forms that provide quickest relief. Others say cannabis-containing body oil and creams bring fast relief when applied to various areas of the head.
Medical Marijuana and Migraines
Cannabis has been used for headaches for thousands of years, according to information gleaned from Assyrian manuscripts from the second millennium BC, Ayurvedic from the third and fourth centuries BC and ancient Greek texts as well. Ancient Arab and Persian documents speak of this as well, as do records of some medieval physicians. After 1839 and for the next century, Western doctors were prescribing it to their patients and touting its efficacy for headache disorders.1 And Morris Fishbein, who spent many years as editor of the JAMA, argued up until 1942 that medical marijuana for migraines was the best remedy available.2
Migraine – Not Your Average Headache
It is estimated that globally, 1 in 10 people suffer from migraines,3 with the estimate for the U.S. being over 38 million people. Some estimates say that as many as 50 million or more in the U.S. may be affected, with around 4 million suffering from chronic migraine. Women tend to get migraines about twice as often as men. About 9 out of 10 people are unable to function normally while under attack and an estimated 1 in 5 become disabled for the time of the attack.
In the U.S., most people with migraines have one to two attacks per month. However, some people have what’s called chronic migraine. These patients suffer migraines 15 days or more per month, and about 85% of those suffering are women.4 Children are not immune either, as an estimated 10% of school-age kids and up to 28% of those between the ages of 15 and 19 have migraines, with half of all migraine sufferers having their first attack before 12 years of age. Migraines have even been reported in babies as young as 18 months old. Up until puberty, boys suffer from migraine more often than girls.5 Roughly 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history.4
Cannabis and Migraines Studies
In a review of clinical publications published between 1839 and 1937, when marijuana was commonly prescribed by physicians, researchers learned something of the benefits of marijuana for migraines in that era. The recorded results of these physicians ranged from migraine relief when cannabis was given during an attack, to preventing attacks in the first place, to in some cases curing the person of migraines.1
In a Colorado study with 120 adults who were using medical marijuana for migraines, researchers found that the frequency of headaches decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month. Most of these patients used more than one form of marijuana daily for prevention. Positive effects were reported in 48 patients (4 percent of those studied), with prevention of migraines, reduced frequency, or headaches that disappeared. Many of these patients used inhaled forms of cannabis and found that this method aborted the migraine. Edibles reportedly caused more negative effects compared with other forms, although none were serious.6
In another study on medical marijuana and migraines, researchers used an electronic survey for patients with headache, arthritis and chronic pain. The migraine patients found that they got maximum relief from hybrid strains. It was also found that patients who usually took opiates for pain were able to use cannabis for relief instead.7
Although there have not been studies done on CBD as a stand-alone drug for migraines, some migraine sufferers say that daily use of CBD keeps their migraines at bay.
If You Try Marijuana for Migraines
There are few studies on medical marijuana and migraines and a great need for more. Yet, there is still much anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of marijuana for migraines. And the studies themselves, though few, point to not only the plant’s potential to alleviate and prevent migraines, but show that it has caused no serious side effects.
As noted previously, the patients in one study preferred hybrids, as do many others who have given their testimonies in online articles and forums. But the only way to tell which is right for you is to try it for yourself, and the best way to do that is by partnering with a doctor who specializes in using cannabis as medicine. Your provider can also help you decide the best methods of delivery, as cannabis now comes in a wide variety of forms such as creams, nasal sprays, pills, tinctures, sprays and many others besides vapes and joints.
But first, it’s always best to check the medical cannabis laws in your state. If you live in a state where medical marijuana illegal but you still want to try it, CBD may be your best option. Here again, your health care provider may be able to guide you. Using our map to learn about the laws in your state will help you get started.
- Lochte, B. C., Beletsky, A., Samuel, N. K., & Grant, I. (2017). The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 61–71. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0033
- CED Foundation. History of Cannabis. https://www.cedfoundation.com/history-of-cannabis
- Migraine Statistics.
- Migraine in Kids and Teens.
- Rhyne DN, Anderson SL, Gedde M, Borgelt LM. Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population. Pharmacotherapy. 2016;36(5):505–510. doi:10.1002/phar.1673
Baron EP, Lucas P, Eades J, Hogue O. Patterns of medicinal cannabis use, strain analysis, and substitution effect among patients with migraine, headache, arthritis, and chronic pain in a medicinal cannabis cohort. J Headache Pain. 2018;19(1):37. Published 2018 May 24. doi:10.1186/s10194-018-0862-2