Cannabis Pain Relief for Migraines and Headaches

December 6, 2021

by Ma Raim

Migraines affect approximately 14.7% of the population (about 1 in 7 people). Those who experience migraines know how debilitating they can be, and in most cases taking strong prescription painkillers is not the ideal solution. If you’re a sufferer, using cannabis for migraine pain relief may be just the thing you’re looking for.

Description of Migraines

Migraines result in a severe throbbing or pulsing sensation, most often located on the side of the head. They’re often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. These additional symptoms often make migraines unbearable for those who experience them. At times, migraines can result in a person not being able to move without vomiting or unable to leave a dark room because of sensitivity. Additionally, they can last from several hours to multiple days.

Woman suffering pain from a migraine

Traditional treatment of migraines focuses on mitigating pain through pain medication that varies from over-the-counter drugs to stronger prescription medications. It’s not uncommon for people who experience severe migraines to be prescribed opiates. These medications do typically help manage symptoms; however, they don’t do anything to prevent migraines and have adverse side effects, particularly if used long term.

It’s no wonder people seek alternative treatment methods from painkillers.

Migraines vs Headaches

How is a migraine different from a headache? There are two classifications of headache disorders, primary and secondary. Migraines fit into the primary category, which refers to independent conditions that cause pain in the head, neck, and face. Other headaches that fit into the primary category include tension-type headaches, cluster headaches, and hemicrania.

Headaches are only one symptom of migraines, and many symptoms can accompany head pain. Migraines typically fall into several categories. 

Types of Migraines

  • Migraine without aura. Common migraine.
  • Migraine with aura. Experience something referred to as an aura before experiencing symptoms of a migraine. An aura is a sensory disturbance that occurs before or during a migraine attack, which can signal that a migraine is coming. They can affect a person’s vision, touch, or speech.
  • Abdominal migraine. Experience pain in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting which can accompany a headache but don’t have to. More often impacts children between the ages of 3 and 10 years.
  • Hemiplegic migraine. A rare type of migraine that causes temporary paralysis; other symptoms may also include vertigo, vision problems, difficulty speaking.

Cannabis for Managing Migraines

We already know that cannabis can help with pain management, but can it specifically help with migraines?

A 2016 study found participants who were recommended by their doctor to consume cannabis had their migraine attacks reduced from 10.4 to 4.6 per month. Inhaled cannabis was used most often in this particular study.

woman exhaling cannabis enjoying pain relief from a migraine

A 2020 study found a 50% reduction in headache rating after cannabis consumption, and a larger reduction was found using cannabis concentrate over cannabis flower. It’s important to note that this reduction is based on participants’ subjective rating associated with pain.

Preliminary research suggests that migraines may have many relationships to endocannabinoid function, which may help prevent migraines and manage acute pain. These functions relate to serotonin and dopamine regulation, modulating NMDA receptors, and blocking spinal and peripheral mechanisms associated with pain. More research is necessary to fully understand these mechanisms and how cannabis can be used to prevent migraines.

While the research is still in the beginning stages, several prolific doctors are beginning to recommend CBD for managing and preventing migraines; for example, the Director of the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia, Dr. Stephen Silberstein. In this Q&A, he points out CBD helps with pain, but additional benefits include that it’s non-intoxicating, non-sedating, reduces anxiety, and doesn’t reinforce cravings or compulsive use as prescription pain medication often does.

Additionally, cannabis can help with opioid detoxification and weaning.

How to Use Cannabis for Managing Migraines

Regular use of cannabis can help manage pain; additionally, some fast-acting consumption methods can help with acute flare-ups of pain.

Which methods work best is going to vary based on your personal needs. We recommend experimenting with a combination of daily/ongoing consumption methods such as edibles or CBD capsules and faster-acting methods such as tinctures or vaping. CBD capsules or other edibles can be added to your daily supplements and other methods can be used when you feel pain building.

Another type of cannabis product that can help with managing migraine and headache pain is cannabis topicals.

Cannabis Topicals for Migraines

Cannabis topicals can be applied directly to the site of pain, which releases tension and relaxes the blood vessels to help reduce pain and inflammation. Rubbing cannabis on the temples, under the ears, or the base of the neck when pain begins to arise can be very beneficial.

How much should I apply? With topicals applied to the skin, they provide localized relief without being absorbed into the bloodstream, so you don’t have to be concerned about the dose. You can apply liberally and often without concern even with THC cannabis topicals as there will be no psychoactive effects.

Best Cannabis Strains for Pain and Migraines

Not all cannabis strains are going to be effective for migraines and it may not even be the same person to person. So, we recommend speaking to your healthcare provider before choosing the best treatment method for you.

If you’re ready to give cannabis a try, here are some of the best strains for pain.

OG Kush with around 20% THC is a head-focused strain that can help you to focus and may help to reduce pain associated with migraines.

Purple Kush is another high-THC strain that is pure indica which can help you to wait out the most severe migraines and can also help you sleep.

White Widow is a more balanced hybrid that may not only help with pain but lift your mood to help you get through the rest of the day.

Blue Dream is a crowd favourite when it comes to hybrids. It provides a full-body relaxation in combination with an invigorating head high. It’s perfect for consumption during the day. Blue dream also contains myrcene and pinene terpenes which may add to its ability to soothe migraines. Myrcene helps to relax muscles and reduce anxiety, while pinene will help with inflammation associated with pain.

When looking for the best cannabis strain for managing pain and migraines, terpenes are something to keep in mind.

Ready to Try Cannabis for Migraines?

Check out our online dispensary for all of your cannabis and CBD needs. If you prefer inhaling cannabis, one of the strains above is a great place to start. If not, consider edibles or other consumption methods. Many people have found that a combination of THC and CBD has been most effective in relieving pain.

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