Treating and Preventing Chronic Migraine with Cannabinoids
We know that cannabinoids can treat pain with their natural analgesic and anti-inflammation properties. And there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that cannabinoids can relieve and even prevent chronic migraine. A few studies show that certain doses of cannabinoids have slightly better effects than existing drugs for migraine relief and prevention.
But for migraine, in particular, dosage and even combinations of cannabinoids have proven a critical factor. Prohibition and constraints on research and funding have long hindered the progress of science concerning cannabinoids.
Fortunately, government restrictions on research are beginning to relax. As education is spreading about the benefits of industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids, and everyone from physicians to legislators to patients is advocating for their use, it is important that we continue to advance in our understanding of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabinoids.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the 6th most disabling disease in the world. At least a billion people are affected by it, and no less than 39 million people suffer from migraine in the United States.
Most people regard migraine as a bad headache. However, it is more serious than that. Migraine attacks feature a throbbing pain, usually recurrent on either or both sides of the head. The throbbing episode may last between 4 and 72 hours. Other symptoms may accompany these attacks, including:
- light sensitivity
A cluster headache is seen as a brief onset of very painful headaches that can hit the patient several times daily. The pain in most cases is felt on just one side of the head, mostly in the region around the eye.
Migraine is more common than a cluster headache. According to the World Health Organization, less than 1000 adults are affected by cluster headaches globally.
Research on Treating Migraine with Cannabinoids
In a study by a team at the Interuniversity Center in Italy, researchers observed that acute pain experienced by adults with chronic migraine reduced by 55 percent when they were given a combined THC–CBD dose of 200mg. However, doses below 100mg did not have any effect on the acute pain.
The same team conducted another study in which they compared the pain reduction of patients taking a combination of THC-CBD with patients taking amitriptyline, an antidepressant often used for the treatment of migraine. The results showed that the reduction of pain for patients who took the cannabinoid combination was slightly higher than the conventional treatment.
In a Colorado case study in 2016, 85 percent of 121 migraine patients reported some level of decrease in their monthly migraine frequency after using medical cannabis.
Additionally, many high-quality studies have investigated the efficacy of cannabinoids on chronic pain. According to a review of 38 published randomized, controlled trials, 71 percent found that cannabinoids revealed significant pain relieving effects.
Migraine and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
A potential cause of a migraine, along with other chronic pain disorders, is thought to be a deficiency in the ECS. When this happens, an imbalance occurs which increases CGRP and other chemicals recognized in migraine occurrence.
There is also evidence to suggest that the ECS is potentially key to treating migraine. Triptans may act on the ECS to help treat migraine attacks. Additionally, activation of cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem could relieve or treat migraine pain by inhibiting cortical spreading depression and the subsequent migraine attack.
What’s Next for Migraine and Cannabiniods?
The interest in using cannabinoids to treat migraine, and innumerable other diseases and conditions, exists. Patients, legislators, and the scientific community are all advocating for more access to cannabinoids and to funding for research. Patients deserve access to safer, more natural, medicinal alternatives. And doctors need to feel confident about recommending them. It’s time to allow science to catch up with what we already know about cannabinoids: that they have an untapped world of benefits that warrant our attention, advocacy, and investigation.
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