Can medicinal marijuana help patients who are suffering from headaches? Continue reading below to find out. 

What are headaches?

A headache is a pain in your head that’s often described as a throbbing, constant, sharp, or dull pressure. Headaches can differ significantly in type, severity, location, and frequency. While most headaches aren’t dangerous, certain types can signify a more severe condition.

How common are they?

Headaches are prevalent. Nearly every person has a headache occasionally, but if they occur repeatedly, it may be a symptom of a headache disorder. The most common disorder is a tension-type headache. 

Signs & Symptoms

Although the exact cause of headache pain isn’t always easy to pinpoint, some of the most common reasons that we get headaches are:

  • dehydration
  • consuming alcohol
  • poor posture
  • tight muscles
  • stress
  • eye strain
  • lack of food
  • over/underuse of caffeine
  • sinus congestion/allergies
  • medication overuse
  • high blood pressure

Treatment Options

If you experience headaches often or ones that feel severe, reach out to your doctor for a diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will complete an examination, discuss your medical history and talk to you about symptoms. They may perform physical and neurological tests if deemed necessary. They’ll also look for signs of a condition causing the headache. With this information, the doctor should be able to determine what type of headache you have, whether it is severe, and if additional tests will be needed.

Treatment for headaches depends on the type and cause. One of the most crucial aspects of treating headaches is learning the triggers. Once the triggers are identified, your doctor can customize the treatment to fit your needs. A range of treatments is available, including:

  • Biofeedback
  • Medications
  • Stress Management
  • Treating an underlying condition

What are migraines? 

Many of us have experienced mild headache pain at some point in our lives; however, a sizeable percentage of the population is plagued by frequent and severe headaches that, unfortunately, disrupt their daily lives. These types of headaches are typically referred to as migraines. A migraine is considered one of the top ten most debilitating illnesses by the World Health Organization, and it’s estimated that twelve percent of Americans, or over 37 million of the adult population in our country alone, are chronic migraine patients.

Women are particularly susceptible to the illness; estimating that approximately one in five women will experience migraines. Many migraine sufferers feel the debilitating impacts of chronic pain in their social and professional lives. Unfortunately, migraine treatments are not always practical due to the unknown nature of their exact cause.

Can medical cannabis help?

Although typically placed into Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid categories, we now understand that those classifications have little to do with a medical cannabis strain’s psychoactive properties. THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids play an essential role, but terpenes also work behind the scenes to help provide a particular strain’s effects. With many migraine and headache sufferers finding no relief in prescription medications, some people have turned to the cannabis plant and its ability to treat migraines by easing the pain caused by light and sound sensitivity. 

Based on emerging peer-reviewed studies, the scientific community is beginning to understand how the active chemicals in certain cannabinoids can interfere with the pathways that trigger extreme pain, reducing their severity or even preventing the headache in some cases. These clinical trials represent a promising future for cannabis medicine as an effective treatment option for those managing pain relief symptoms from the cannabis flower.

Research into medical cannabis as an effective migraine treatment is in the early stages, and further research is needed. However, The Journal of Pain published a 2019 study claiming that the severity of headache disorders and migraine pain was reduced by around 50 percent when individuals participated in medicinal cannabis use. Another medically reviewed study in Pharmacotherapy found that 40 percent of people who began using medical cannabis treatment for migraines experienced a significant decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks. 

Anecdotal evidence published by a medicinal cannabis cohort in a study by Neurology reported that 42 percent of surveyed patients saw a decrease in their migraine headache frequency.

According to medical research published by J headache pain on jpain.org: “Inhaled cannabis reduces self-reported headache and migraine severity by approximately 50%. However, its effectiveness appears to diminish, and patients appear to use larger doses over time, suggesting tolerance to these effects may develop with continued use.”

So far, there has been limited research into terpenes and their relation to migraine headaches and the human endocannabinoid system because recreational cannabis is federally illegal. But one cannabis science study found that terpenes, myrcene, and caryophyllene have medicinal benefits that can ease migraine attacks and reduce headache frequency. Discussing medical cannabis use with a trusted healthcare provider could help if you’ve exhausted other prescription medication options.

Last Updated: June 14, 2024

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