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Medical Marijuana for Migraine Relief: Why Not?

Posted by Migraine Relief Center on Jan 7, 2015 7:00:00 AM
The year 2014 will always be remembered by marijuana activists as a momentous time in terms of legalization and mainstream adoption. As the United States looked towards 2015, three states had already enacted comprehensive legalization of cannabis, and a handful of other states had adopted regulations that would allow the medical use of marijuana and its decriminalization. 2298921212_117fc534a9_o

One of the strongest arguments made in favor of the legalization of marijuana is centered on medical use. Still, legal challenges prevail even in states where the medicinal use of cannabis has been accepted by legislative action. Case in point: Rhode Island; where a graduate student who lives with a migraine condition was denied an internship on the grounds that she is prescribed medical marijuana. This student is now suing the company on the grounds that the medicinal use of cannabis is legal in Rhode Island.

Is Marijuana Effective for Treating Migraines?

Clinical research into the relation between marijuana and migraines dates back to 1987. Patients who had been long-term users of marijuana decided to stop smoking for various personal reasons, and it so happens that they actually developed a migraine condition for the first time in their lives upon cessation of cannabis intake.

The above-mentioned study brought up some interesting hypotheses. For example, researchers pondered on the possibility of the former marijuana smokers having lived with migraine conditions without being aware of them. This lack of awareness could have been caused by chronic marijuana use; this makes sense insofar as the analgesic properties of cannabis. However, another explanation was based on the similar effects that marijuana presents when compared to triptans.

Triptans are part of a family of medications prescribed for the preventative treatment of migraines. Triptans are known to:
  • Have an effect on serotonin receptors
  • Constrict cranial blood vessels
  • Inhibit the release of neuropeptides that cause inflammation
Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco have drawn greater parallels related to the use of triptans and cannabis among migraine patients. It so happens that the human brain produces analgesic neurochemicals that can prevent migraines or mask headache pain. These naturally occurring neurochemicals are stimulated by both triptans and marijuana, and many migraine patients are known as being deficient in the production of these analgesic neurotransmitters. To this end, it is not unreasonable to think that migraine specialists will be taking a closer look at marijuana as part of an effective treatment plan.

Not All Marijuana Strains Are the Same

Most of the marijuana strains commonly discussed in public are cultivated for the purpose of appealing to recreational users. When it comes to medical marijuana, the number of strains is not as numerous as those known for recreational use. There is a common misconception about medical marijuana being more potent than strains normally consumed for recreational purposes; this is simply not true. There are about a dozen marijuana strains used for medical purposes, and a couple of them do not even produce the physical side effects that many recreational users often seek.

Migraine patients who choose to smoke any type of marijuana strain that they can get their hands on could potentially invite a headache episode. This could happen due to the several known adverse effects of marijuana, which means that migraine patients should be aware of strains that could cause anxiety, insomnia or stress. It is not unreasonable to think that a powerful strain of marijuana with a high content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) could actually trigger a migraine episode or bring on an unpleasant rebound headache.

When Marijuana is Contraindicated for Migraine Patients

Not all migraine patients are receptive to certain medications such as triptans, and a similar situation may apply to cannabis. There is a strong chance that migraine patients whose episodes are triggered by tobacco smoke and nicotine may not be good candidates for using marijuana to manage their headaches.

Still, medical marijuana does not always need to be smoked. Long before marijuana became a controlled substance in the United States, pharmacists and druggists recommended preparation based on cannabis for the treatment of chronic headaches, which were not widely known as migraines back then. Sublingual tinctures, oral tablets and vaporization are adequate delivery methods for the medicinal use of cannabis.

In the end, the current push for marijuana legalization is promising with regard to future medical research into how cannabis may be prescribed to treat chronic migraine conditions. The right marijuana can reduce nausea, act as a vasodilator and also provide analgesic relief, which are factors that can be considered beneficial in the treatment of migraines.

*Photo courtesy of Torben Hansen

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