Few experiences in this world are as debilitating and unpredictable as a migraine headache. Characterized by a painful hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli like light and sound, they render its sufferers helpless for hours at a time, often unable to leave a darkened room.
Despite advances in medicine and pharmacology, exactly what triggers them remains a mystery and most treatments are still relatively ineffective.
What Modern Medicine Says
They are known to run in families, pointing to a genetic predisposition, but the most doctors have been able to identify a variety of triggers. According to WebMD, these include exercise, sex, caffeine, smoking, certain food and drinks, particularly additives and preservatives, changes in the weather, menstruation, skipping meals, and changes in sleep.
Clearly, this is an incredibly diverse range of triggers. But what links them? How could so many different phenomena contribute to the development of a migraine?
The answer, as you may have guessed by now, comes back to cannabis and its primary site of action: the endocannabinoid system.
The Frontiers of Migraine Research
The endocannabinoid system is involved in the regulation of many different systems in the body, including blood pressure, stress response, digestion, sleep, gut health, and inflammation. These are all modulated to one degree or another by all of these different triggers.
This opens up the possibility that one of the underlying mechanisms of migraine development may be an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system.
One researcher postulated Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) might even be the underlying cause of diverse health problems like IBS and fibromyalgia as well as migraines. Part of this line of reasoning is based on how endocannabinoids like anandamide inhibit the 5HT2A receptor, a receptor that has long been implicated in migraines and a target for different pharmaceutical means of treating migraines.
Theory is one thing. Practice is another.
Even if the endocannabinoid system is somehow involved with migraines, can cannabis actually help prevent or treat them?
Cannabis as a Migraine Treatment
There are disturbingly few options available for treating migraines. The ineffectiveness of standard medical treatments makes any real benefits for any form of treatment that much more impressive.
In one of the only scientific studies to clinically evaluate cannabis for migraines, an impressive 85% of subjects experienced fewer migraines. This is a big number. Across all the subjects in the study, the number of migraines was reduced by over 50%.
While further study is necessary, it’s clear that cannabis can help prevent migraines in some cases.
As noted in this article from Psychology Today, cannabis also shows promise as a means of relief from migraines as they happen, mediated by its well-known analgesic properties that are mediated largely by the CB2 receptor activated by CBD.
In contrast to other pain medications like opioids, cannabis only blocks painful stimuli. Normal touch remains just that: normal.
Cannabis: A New Hope
Given the legal limbo of medical marijuana it is unfortunate that so little has been done to investigate its potential as a relief for sufferers of migraines. But as the political tides shift and the legitimate medical potential of cannabis become more recognized, a safe, natural, and scientifically verified treatment for migraines may be just around the corner.