Migraines are one of the most common diseases in the world. About 39 million people in the United States and 1 billion people worldwide suffer from migraines, or one in eight men, women, and children living on the planet today. Almost half of all women will have migraines at some point in their life, most commonly between the ages of 35 and 45.
There are many treatment options available, including a variety of preventive and pain relieving medications. Some sufferers have even turned to psychedelic drugs for relief, which is not that surprising when you hear this LSD was first developed as a vasoconstrictor, a class of drugs used to treat migraines.
Cannabis also promises to be a convenient and effective treatment for migraines and other headaches. According to a review published in August 2021 by a Florida-based research group, recent evidence suggests that cannabis use through the glutamine, inflammatory, opiate, and serotonin pathways “reduces the duration and frequency of migraines” .1 Two of the 34 studies included in the review are discussed in more detail below.
In addition, two other recently published publications suggest that terpenes, which are responsible for the smell of the cannabis plant, may have something to do with this therapeutic effect.
THC– rich cannabis flower against migraines & Headache relief
A study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine2 in September 2020 found that inhaled cannabis was highly effective for headaches. Researchers at the University of New Mexico used data from more than 2.5 years of the digital app Releaf to investigate real-time associations between cannabis use and migraine and headache symptoms. Patients used the app to record pain intensity on a scale of 0-10 before and immediately after using cannabis.
94 percent of users experienced symptom relief within two hours of cannabis use, with an average reduction in pain intensity of 3.3. Men reported greater relief than women, and patients under the age of 35 tended to improve more than older patients. This study found that THC Values above 10% (as reported by app users on product labels) were the strongest independent predictor of symptom relief.
Concentrates are more effective than smoked flowers
Inhaling cannabis reduced reported headaches and migraines by about half, and more reductions were associated with concentrates than with flowers.
A Washington State University team (WSU) examined archive data from another medical cannabis app called Strainprint to study the effects of inhaled cannabis on headaches and migraines. The researchers also rated the effects of gender, type of cannabis (flower or concentrate), dose, and concentration of THC and CBD on this effect.
After compiling the data from thousands of sessions from hundreds of app users, WSU Researchers concluded that inhaling cannabis reduced reported headaches and migraines by about half. Their results, published in the Journal of Pain in May 2021, 3 showed that concentrates were associated with greater reductions than flowers. The authors also found that men reported greater benefits than women.
But they also observed a tolerance effect with continued use: “[Cannabis’] effectiveness seems to decrease over time and patients seem to use larger doses over time. “
Terpene-based drugs for brain health
So what does cannabis help in improving migraine and headache symptoms? It is in the first place THCas the first study suggests? Or is it THC and CBD What other evidence, taken together, suggests that they are best for acute pain relief?
Another factor can be terpenes, the phytochemicals that cannabis (and many other phytochemicals) both protect and impart taste and smell. Terpenes are increasingly being investigated for their therapeutic effects in humans.
In an article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in August 2021, 4 Australian-based researchers reviewed evidence of the benefits of neurological and psychiatric disorders associated with two prominent cannabis sterpenes, pinene and linalool. These compounds affect multiple neurotransmitter, inflammatory, and neurotrophic signals, the authors write. And existing data (mostly preclinical, meaning not verified in humans) suggests that migraines – along with stroke, ischemia, and other forms of inflammatory and neuropathic pain – are among the conditions these terpenes can help.
Terpenes inhibit neuroinflammation
Terpenes are increasingly being investigated for their therapeutic effects in humans.
An August 2021 review by Mexican researchers at Frontiers in Pharmacology5 looks at terpenes as anti-inflammatory agents and evaluates their potential as alternative treatments for inflammation of the brain and skin. In the first category, inflammation is a typical feature of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, the authors write. They also point to a recent study by Iranian scientists6 that found an antidepressant effect in mice of limonene, another terpene found in many cannabis strains, which appeared to be mediated by inhibiting neuroinflammation.
Where does neuroinflammation probably still play a role? Migraine. While the authors do not specifically mention headaches or migraines in their discussion of terpenes and neuroinflammation, it is an area that warrants further investigation. When you look at all of these results as a whole, what is taking shape is as good an argument for the entourage effect as you are likely to find: THC, CBD, and at least a handful of terpenes in cannabis, likely all play a role in the management of migraine pain.
Nate Seltenrich, an independent science writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, covers a wide range of topics including environmental health, neuroscience, and pharmacology.
Copyright, project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.