Migraine Awareness Week: The benefits of cannabis inhalation to treat chronic migraines

By Published On: September 26th, 2023Categories: Cannabis, Health

Migraines are categorised as a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. It is generally accompanied with symptoms such as feeling sick, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.

It is a common health condition affecting around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men. It is believed women suffer more with migraines due to a drop in hormones, namely estrogen, which can affect chemicals in the brain that impact the sensation of pain.

Did you know that it is estimated that there are 190,000 migraine attacks experienced every day in England? It is also reported that 6 million people suffer from migraines in the UK alone. You’d think with a condition so common, that treatment for it would be easy to come by, however, there is currently no specific cure for migraines.

Migraine can be associated with specific neurological symptoms including visual symptoms (aura), vertigo, double vision, tinnitus or sensory symptoms. Women may experience migraine around their menstrual cycle. Triggers and frequencies of migraines differ dramatically from person to person, which is why they are so hard to treat and manage.

Medical Management of Migraine in the UK

Currently, migraine sufferers are often told to limit stress, eat better, exercise more, get good sleep and limit alcohol and caffeine intake to help with their migraine symptoms, yet for the majority, these things are easier said than done and often have limited overall benefits.

The Migraine Trust recently reported* that many migraine sufferers are being dismissed as “just having a headache”, even though it is well known that over the counter paracetamol and ibuprofen are often completely ineffective for migraine sufferers. Patients are waiting years to be diagnosed and most aren’t being given the chance to see a specialist for new treatments such as new medications and even Botox.

Due to a lack of support and access to treatment, many patient’s symptoms are worsening, limiting their ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks which has a huge impact on relationships, work and mental health.

Within The Migraine Trust’s latest report they found that migraine sufferers may experience considerable delay in obtaining a diagnosis frequently do not access appropriate specialist care.

The report states some fascinating statistics that highlight the negative impact migraines have on a persons life:

  • Almost a third (32%) said it negatively affected their mental health
  • Almost a third (32%) said it negatively affected their overall health
  • Three in ten (30%) said it negatively affected their working life
  • A quarter (25%) said it negatively affected their family life
  • Over a quarter (27%) said it negatively affected their social life

The report also stated that more then 43 million workdays are lost due to migraine related illnesses in the UK each year and 16,500 emergency admissions are due to headache and migraine attacks.

Cannabis Treatment and Migraine

Cannabis treatment on Migraines has been found by numerous patients across the globe to be helpful in the management of pain.

As discussed on Cannabis Health News, Dr Anthony Ordman, senior clinical adviser and hon. clinical director of Integro Clinics, based in London explains:

“Recent medical scientific research is showing that cannabis medicines can have several useful roles in the prevention of migraine, and also reducing pain if a migraine attack does occur.

“It is likely that substances in cannabis medicines (plant-derived CBD, THC and terpenes) all have roles to play, and that they supplement the activity of the brain’s naturally occurring endocannabinoid system. This system may be under-active in people prone to migraine.

“There are three likely mechanisms by which cannabis medicines may be effective.

“Firstly, the natural stabilising or anticonvulsant effect of the cannabinoids suppresses the spreading abnormal wave of voltage depression in the brain’s cortical neurones. This wave precedes all migraine attacks and causes the aura familiar to migraine sufferers.

“Secondly, cannabis substances are thought to stabilise the mast cells of the immune system.

“In migraine, mast cells are involved in dilatation, or opening up of the blood vessels of the brain’s lining (dura), causing that familiar pulsating headache. Cannabis medicines may prevent this process from occurring.

“And finally, as in other painful conditions, if a migraine does occur, cannabis medicines are likely to block the transmission of pain messages in nerves running from the brain stem to the pain centres of the brain, to reduce pain itself. A recent study showed that cannabinoids may reduce migraine severity by 49.6 percent, without causing the ‘overuse headache,’ that other pain medicines such as paracetamol may cause.”

The Larkin Community Hospital in Miami, reviewed 34 scientific papers to examine whether cannabis could help with migraine management, found that there are both positive long- and short-term effects when using medical cannabis. They discovered that many patients reported significantly more positive effects rather than adverse effects such as a reduction in analgesic intake and dependency, improved health and well-being both mentally and physically and a decrease in the actual pain intensity of the migraine.

In 2016 an observational study** which looked at 121 participants, reported that patients who inhaled and ate cannabis products recorded 6 fewer migraines per month. The study, spanning 4 years from 2010 to 2014 prescribed patients pain relief or medical cannabis. It revealed that most participants used a combination of different cannabis products with 40% (48 patients) recording a decrease in frequency. Nearly 12% (14 patients) stated that it may have stopped their pain from migraines but a similar number reported negative effects from cannabis treatment.

Most healthcare professionals and researchers have agreed that further research needs to be conducted on cannabis therapy and the effects it has on migraines, but the studies completed so far are certainly promising and it will be exciting to see what studies come out over the upcoming years.

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