New research suggests marijuana may be an effective treatment for migraine headaches.
Migraines are a severe form of reoccurring headache that affect 36 million Americans — about 12% of the population. Surprisingly, new findings suggest medical marijuana may bring relief to those who suffer from this painful condition.
The study, published Jan. 9 in the journal Pharmacology, found that using marijuana led to a significant decrease in the number of monthly migraines suffered.“There was a substantial improvement for patients”
Of the 121 patients who were studied, 103 reported a decrease in migraines after using marijuana. 15 patients showed no change while 3 had an increase in headaches.
Overall, the frequency of migraine headaches dropped from 10.4 to 4.6 per month among participants in the study.
“There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better,” said study author Laura Borgelt, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
The study included patients that sought treatment at Gedde Whole Health, a private clinic in Colorado that specializes in medical marijuana for a variety of conditions, between January 2010 and September 2014.
Almost all patients in the study reported using marijuana on a daily basis. About half were taking prescription migraine treatments in addition to marijuana.
Most patients used more than one form of cannabis, including smoked, inhaled and edible preparations.
The study found that patients preferred inhaled marijuana for treating acute migraines, due to the quick-acting nature of cannabis when smoked or vaporized. On the other hand, edibles seemed more effective at preventing future headaches.
But how exactly marijuana works to relieve migraines is still not fully understood, noted the researchers.
Cannabinoids — the active ingredients in marijuana — are believed to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. They are also known to affect important signalling chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin.
“We believe serotonin plays a role in migraine headaches, but we are still working to discover the exact role of cannabinoids in this condition,” Borgelt said.“We are still working to discover the exact role of cannabinoids”
According to the researchers, the study was one of the first to show a decrease in migraine frequency in patients that used medical marijuana.
While anecdotal benefits have been well documented, studies on marijuana as a treatment for headaches have been overwhelmingly absent. Part of the lack of research is due to federal drug laws, which make it difficult for scientists to access the plant.
Despite the positive findings, the authors of the study warn that more research needs to be done on marijuana as a migraine treatment.
“Like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It’s important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects,” Borgelt noted.
“If patients are considering medical marijuana they should speak to their health care provider and then follow up so we can track the impact of their overall treatment.”