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Does Medical Marijuana Help with Migraines?

Migraine headaches can be extremely debilitating and affect patients’ quality of life, prompting people to wonder if medical marijuana might help with migraines. While there haven't yet been any randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials (considered the "gold standard" in clinical medicine), a review from the University of Arizona indicates that migraine sufferers could potentially benefit from cannabis.

Medical Cannabis and Migraine Symptoms

In May 2022, researchers from the University of Arizona published a review that included 12 publications and 1,980 participants in Italy and the United States of America who consumed medical marijuana for migraine pain. While none of the studies in the migraine treatment review were randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials, the review found that:

  • Medical cannabis was 51% more effective at reducing migraine pain than non-cannabis products.

  • Medical cannabis reduced migraine headache frequency with an average reduction of 10.4 to 4.6 days of migraine pain per month.

  • Compared to amitriptyline, medical cannabis aborted migraine pain in 11.6% of participants.

  • After six months, medical cannabis reduced migraine-associated nausea and vomiting.

Side Effects of Medical Cannabis Use for Migraine Relief

In the review cited above, there were also a few downsides to treating migraine with medical cannabis:

  • 44% of participants experienced mild side effects, including medication overuse headache.

  • Other side effects included increased heart rate, dizziness, impaired concentration and memory, and slowed reaction times.

The researchers concluded that well-designed trials are needed to confirm the benefits and find the optimal dosage and frequency of consumption to keep side effects to a minimum.

Relevant State Medical Marijuana Laws

In some states—including Illinois—migraines are listed as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. In other states, migraines may be unlisted but still related to other qualifying conditions. For example, Arizona's qualifying conditions list includes "chronic pain," which may be an applicable symptom of migraines. In some states, a migraine patient would need to obtain a medical marijuana card to purchase cannabis.

In recreational states, migraine sufferers over the legal age (usually 21) can purchase marijuana with a government-issued photo ID. However, there are often advantages to obtaining a medical marijuana card, including tax exemptions, access to more potent strains, home delivery, and workplace protections.

How to Obtain a Medical Marijuana Card

The process of obtaining a medical marijuana card is similar across most states. Get a certification from a licensed physician, register your certification with the state, and then receive your card.

To obtain a medical cannabis card in Arizona, for example, a migraine sufferer would need to book an MMJ telemedicine appointment or in-person appointment with a licensed physician and pay the $150 fee to the Arizona Department of Health Services. The card is usually approved and ready to use within five working days. Buying CBD oil in Arizona is an available alternative for migraine patients who either can't get access to legal marijuana, want to minimize any side effects, or want to avoid the "high" associated with THC.

What About CBD for Migraines?

Cannabidiol—the other main cannabinoid in the cannabis plant—has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to be effective for neuropathic pain.

While CBD might help to a certain degree with migraine-associated inflammation and pain, THC is thought to be more effective for nausea and vomiting. In fact, it is the basis of two FDA-approved nausea-relieving drugs. If you frequently experience nausea with migraines, look for full-spectrum CBD products that also contain THC plus inflammation-reducing terpenes like myrcene and beta-caryophyllene.

An Important Note about CBD and Other Medications

Before using CBD for pain relief, it's important to be aware that this compound acts on the liver enzymes in such a way that it could keep other medications circulating in your system for longer. If you have liver problems or take medications—especially those with a "grapefruit" warning, seek professional medical advice before taking CBD.

How Common Are Migraine Headaches?

Each year, migraine attacks affect more than 1 billion people globally. In fact, these severe, recurring headaches represent the second leading cause of disability around the world. Usually, doctors prescribe medications like sumatriptan (Imitrex, Tosyma) and rizatriptan (Maxalt, Maxalt-MLT) to help with migraine symptoms.

Interestingly, research shows that around two-thirds of migraine and severe headache sufferers avoid or delay taking prescribed medications due to concerns surrounding their potential side effects. If taken at the lowest effective dose, marijuana might provide a more acceptable alternative for migraine patients who would otherwise avoid treating migraine pain.

The Future of Medical Cannabis to Treat Migraines

Medical cannabis research is limited by the fact that marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level. However, as more and more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis, we can only hope that federal laws will relax enough to allow high-quality studies to be conducted on the efficacy of marijuana for migraines.

Until further research confirms the most effective strains, doses, and frequency of marijuana for migraine headaches, patients in medical states can still apply for MMJ cards under the chronic pain condition and shop at medical cannabis dispensaries. Once you have dispensary access, talk with the budtenders and try a few different doses and strains to find the best form of marijuana for migraine relief.

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