Headaches are a very common ailment, as are migraines, a more serious type of headache that can have symptoms other than just pain. Many people treat headaches and migraines with over-the-counter medications, but sometimes these don’t provide sufficient relief – especially if you’re suffering from chronic migraines, a condition that can be debilitating. Could alternative therapies such as medical cannabis help?
What Are Headaches and Migraines?
At a basic level, a headache is pain felt anywhere in your head. Headaches have two classifications: primary and secondary. Primary headaches have a direct cause, such as dehydration or exposure to bright lights. Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition like a neck injury or the common cold.
There are many types of primary and secondary headaches, all with varying severity of symptoms. The most common types of headaches are cluster and tension headaches, which you may feel on one or both sides of your head. You can usually treat a mild headache with simple and non-prescription treatments, such as rest or drinking water.
A migraine is a severe type of headache usually on one side of the head and can cause symptoms such as nausea, light sensitivity and throbbing pain. Some people struggle with migraines daily or weekly, while others experience them once or twice a year and some will never have one at all. Women generally experience more migraines than men, which may be due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Can You Use Medical Cannabis For Headaches?
The research on using medical cannabis to treat headaches is still in its infancy. However, some studies have shown promising preliminary results. There’s also some evidence to suggest that medical cannabis may help manage your intake of traditional headache medications, which can be harmful if overused.
One study focused on Nabilone – a medication that mimics THC’s effects – and people experiencing medication overuse headache (MOH). MOH can occur in people taking large amounts of common painkillers such as paracetamol. Researchers found that Nabilone’s potential pain-relieving effect may be an effective way to help people reduce their intake of painkillers, and in doing so reduce MOH symptoms.
The study noted that Nabilone was more effective at reducing the intensity of headaches rather than the frequency, but this may have been due to the study’s short time frame.
Headaches can be difficult to manage, especially if traditional medications start to lose their effectiveness or create their own difficulties. Alternative therapies such as medical cannabis may be another way to help manage headaches.
Can You Use Medical Cannabis to Manage Migraines?
The research on medical cannabis and migraines is still in its early stages, but there have been some positive results.
One study used a medical cannabis app called Strainprint to track user reports on how medical cannabis affected their migraines. The study found that medical cannabis may be effective – the results showed a nearly 50% decrease in migraine severity over a large sample size.
There were a few caveats: the study found that the participants experienced less reduction in symptoms as time went on. This suggests a tolerance may develop for any pain-relief that cannabis may have for migraines
Another recent study on migraines found similar results with medical cannabis, also noting the decrease in migraine intensity rather than frequency. In this study, however, the decrease in pain was modest.
A 2016 study on medical marijuana and migraines in adults found that using medical cannabis caused an overall decrease in migraines per month. The study also found that inhaling cannabis caused fewer side effects for the participants than consuming edibles. The study concluded that further research should be done to determine the best delivery method and dose for those using medical cannabis for migraines.
Migraines can be very difficult to manage, but there are treatment options to go over with your doctor. Medical cannabis may potentially reduce migraine severity, but further clinical trials are needed.
Can Medical Cannabis Cause Headaches?
While medical cannabis can potentially treat headaches, it may also cause them. Headaches from cannabis use may be related to cannabis withdrawal syndrome. Withdrawal may occur from overuse of cannabis, so make sure to speak to your doctor about proper dosage.
While medical cannabis can potentially treat medication overuse headaches, some studies have found that it may also trigger them. This study on people experiencing chronic migraines and medication overuse headaches found that their cannabis use may be associated with headaches.
An important difference is that the participant’s cannabis use in this study was not monitored, unlike other studies that have found potential benefits for synthetic cannabis extracts and headaches.
Much like regular headaches, headaches brought on by cannabis use can have simple remedies such as rest, drinking water and ceasing cannabis use. If these remedies don't work, you may want to speak to a doctor.
Living With Headaches and Migraines
The research around medical cannabis for headaches and migraines, while still in its early stages, is encouraging. Like any medication, it's important to follow your prescribed dosage, as medical cannabis may cause headaches as well as having the potential to manage them.
Living with chronic pain of any kind can be debilitating – the best course of action if headaches are impacting your quality of life is to see your doctor and discuss treatment options.