Hannah of Atherton, CA, like many of my patients, has been battling migraine headaches as a teenager. She’s spun her wheels with over-the-counter and prescription medications and now has decided to try medical marijuana as a last resort. Here’s what Hannah writes…
Hey Dr. Patel,
I’m writing in to get some more info on medical marijuana for migraine headaches.
I started getting migraine headaches when I was 16 years old. I’m now 38 and still battle these headaches. In fact, they’ve become much worse over the years. I get them more and more often and they’re more painful.
I usually get about 1 migraine headache a week and it can last for anywhere up to 2 to 3 days.
I’m left completely debilitated on these days. As you can imagine, all the important things that I have to get done are left to wayside.
The headaches can go from a throbbing to a pounding pain pretty quickly. Without fail, I end up feeling nauseous. Sometimes, I even end up vomiting. Bright lights make my migraines way more painful.
My doctor tried to put me on prescription medications to prevent these migraines in the first place, but either I got some really uncomfortable side effects, like one of them made the entire left side of my body go numb and a few others made me feel like I was experiencing morning sickness all day, or they just didn’t work.
Right now, I use Imitrex, a triptan, to help stop the migraine headaches. The problem with this medication is that if I don’t catch the headache at just the right time, then I’ve completely lost the opportunity to stop the headache and I have to bear through it for the next 2 to 3 days.
Otherwise, over-the-counter pain medications don’t come anywhere close to touching the pain.
I’ve even spent time eliminating certain foods that are known to trigger migraine headaches, but I still got migraine headaches during these times.
So what’d you think?
I’ve never had a migraine headache myself, but from the near hundreds of stories patients have told me over the years, I know that it’s a miserable experience for them.
I can tell you that you’re certainly not alone in your struggle with migraines. Migraines affect 12% of the general population-that’s close to 1 in every 10 people you meet. That’s a lot of people.
I want to start off by telling you what the research says and then I’ll tell you about the results I’ve seen in my own medical marijuana clinic.
Medical Marijuana for Migraines and Headaches: The Research
In a very recent study done in Colorado, published in 2016, researchers analyzed the medical charts of 121 patients diagnosed with Migraines. They had been treated with medical marijuana between January 2010 and September 2014. The results showed that:
1. 103 of the 121, so 85% of the patients, reported that they experienced a reduction in how often they had their migraines.
2. On average, the number of migraines decreased from 10.4 a month to 4.6-that’s down to about half the number of migraines with the use of medical marijuana!
3. 11.6% of the patients reported that marijuana helped to stop the migraine headaches.
4. It was also found that “there was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better,” said the study’s senior author Professor Laura Borgelt, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS.
Medical Marijuana for Migraines and Headaches: The Why
One of the theories as to why marijuana helps reduce the pain of headaches has to do with how it affects serotonin levels.
It’s been suggested that migraine headaches may be due to low serotonin levels.
Research shows that marijuana prevents serotonin levels from dropping really low and ultimately preventing migraine headaches.
When it comes to migraine headaches, it turns out that marijuana has a lot in common with a class of pharmaceutical drugs commonly prescribed for migraines-Triptans.
Triptans also affect the serotonin pathway. They stimulate the same receptors as serotonin, causing the same effect as the body’s own serotonin.
Medical Marijuana for Migraines and Headaches: The Results
In patients with migraine headaches that I’ve treated with medical marijuana, I’ve seen it affect their migraines in 3 different ways.
Many of my patients have reported that medical marijuana helps to reduce the severity of their headaches. On a pain scale of 10, on average, my patients say that marijuana helps to bring the pain down from a 7-9 to a 1-3.
My patients have also reported that medical marijuana helps to reduce the duration of the headaches-how long the headaches last.
It use to be that when my patients were using a Triptan, they absolutely had to catch the headache at just the right time, and if they didn’t, they’d end up having to bear through the headache for 2, even 3 days.
With medical marijuana, my patients reported that they weren’t limited to using it only within a certain window of time and when they did use the medical marijuana, the migraine headaches resolve within an hour or so.
Most of my patients usually tell me that prior to using medical marijuana, they were having migraine headaches on average about 1 to 3 times a month. With medical marijuana, they had migraine headaches much less frequently, about once every 3 to 6 months. Now, in best case scenarios, patients have reported back that they haven’t had a migraine since they started using medical marijuana.
It’s really great hearing these results especially when I know that they’ve really struggled with finding a solution for their migraine headaches.
Hannah, I hope that helps.
- Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population.
- Serotonin and migraine: biology and clinical implications.
- Effect of cannabinoids on platelet serotonin uptake.
More information on Medical Marijuana for Migraine Headaches:
- Judge orders state to reconsider medical marijuana for migraines
- Marijuana For Migraines: Migraine sufferers have few options for reducing their headache pain