It’s not just the pain associated with migraines that makes them difficult to handle, it’s the fact that when you have one, you can’t do much else than cope. Throbbing pain and sensitivity to light and sound are just a few of the charming symptoms of everyone’s least favorite headache, which is sometimes accompanied by other day-ruiners like nausea and vomiting.
Migraines are a recurring condition, and their causes run the gamut from stress to hormone fluctuations to changes in weather, sleep, and food. If you’re prone to them, you’ve likely learned to identify the warning signs and begin treatment early in order to mitigate symptoms, since total prevention remains elusive. Medication can be helpful, but overuse is a problem that can lead to further complications, including more headaches.
This article explores the research and use of cannabis and hemp use in obtaining relief and restoring functionality during the hours or days a migraine can last.
Research on CBD for Migraine Headaches
Recent Study on THC and CBD
Both CBD and THC are analgesics, meaning they’re effective pain relievers. The general rule of thumb if using THC and/or CBD for pain management is that THC targets acute pain, and CBD, chronic pain. They’re often combined in different ratios in many strains and products.
Recall that human beings and other animals have endocannabinoid systems (ECS’s), networks of compounds and receptors that run throughout the body and play significant roles in regulating pain, mood, appetite, and memory. Research supports exogenous cannabinoid treatment (introduction of cannabinoids produced outside the body, which also makes its own) as an effective contributor to homeostasis in cases of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED). Symptoms of CED include increased sensitivity to pain, disruptions in mood and appetite, and difficulty sleeping, and can occur in cases of PTSD, for example, and in migraineurs (the fancy word for people who get migraines, very French oui).
CED is postulated to be one of the reasons for an array of treatment-resistant conditions, for example findings support that migraineurs are often deficient in the endocannabinoid anandamide, which plays a role in stress management and is linked to increased neuropathic pain when present in lower than average levels. Supplementing with THC and CBD, as well as other phytocannabinoids, terpene and flavonoid profiles present in cannabis and hemp, can decrease pain.
Both THC and CBD can help ease insomnia and have neuroprotective antioxidant properties (bonus). Since lack of sleep can contribute to migraine frequency and severity, getting enough sleep is an important management tool.
THC is also effectively used to treat nausea and anticipation-related anxiety in chemotherapy patients, and is an appetite stimulus. CBD impacts serotonin receptors, and in small doses can relieve nausea and vomiting.
Can Cannabis help with Migraines?
Summary: Cannabis and Hemp
Yes! You can use cannabis and hemp as preventative measures as well as to ease your migraine symptoms when they occur. The TL;DR recap of the research above? In addition to reducing pain, some strains of cannabis (usually indica) and hemp are also used for sleep and relaxation.
Cannabis is also widely acknowledged to be an effective anti-emetic (anti-nausea agent), because it works on both the brain and gut, both of which are involved in producing and registering nausea.
Study on nabilone (Fake THC)
Nabilone (aka Cesamet) is a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics THC. The FDA approved it in 1985 for use in treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and it continues to be classified as a Schedule II drug.
Evidence suggests nabilone is not more effective than placebos in pain management and has been both recommended against and unsupported for use as an analgesic.
Please note that while both are synthetic, nabilone is not the same as synthetic cannabis. Synthetic cannabis (known commonly as “Spice,” “K2,” or a variety of other names) is dangerous and should be avoided. The CDC reports it is “unpredictable and harmful—even life threatening,” and since it hit the market there have been hundreds of deaths associated with overdose and product contamination. We do not recommend synthetic cannabis/Spice/K2 for any reason.
Can CBD cause headaches?
There’s currently nothing to suggest that CBD causes headaches. Side effects are shown to be minimal, and can include sleepiness and upset stomach. As always, experiment with the form you’re drawn to (whether that’s smoking, topicals, edibles, tinctures, etc.) and with the dosage. Start with a low dose once per day. Increase the amount and frequency as needed in order to find what works for you.
Other treatments for Migraines
Rest, sleep, and more rest. The Mayo Clinic also recommends keeping a migraine diary in order to track triggers and (hopefully) curtail future attacks. Caffeine (or lack thereof) is easy enough to tackle. However when the trigger is stress-related, avoidance may not be possible—or desirable. In some cases, minimizing exposure can increase sensitivity to triggers, so do what you can to promote safety and support in your world.
Try fortifying yourself using any number of calming and centering techniques to help you cope with whatever’s ailing you. Addressing thought patterns that don’t serve your overall wellbeing and creating opportunities for regular relaxation can go a long way in managing migraine symptoms. Making positive changes and granting oneself permission to cultivate gentleness and encouragement in one’s growth process are good longterm tools to have in your belt, for any occasion.
Talk to Your Doctor
Consult your trusted care provider. For some folks that’s someone in Western medicine, for others it might be a holistic or indigenous healer. Still others prefer some combination of perspectives. The point is: find someone you trust through friends, research, or your local free clinic. When possible, look for someone whom you feel “gets you,” who you like and likes you; these are important predictors of success in therapeutic contexts.
I know many trans, gnc (gender nonconforming) and LGBQ+ folks avoid doctors for all kinds of valid reasons. If you’re trans and/or gnc identified, or fall somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and in NYC, you might try Callen-Lorde, Apicha, or consult this directory for health centers that variously focus on these communities and POC, class-based, and dis/ability intersections therein, offering doctors and staff who are trained to be competent in relevant issues.