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Cannabis & Migraines: New Research, Long History

Research on Migraines and Cannabis
Photo by Mislav Marohnić


Cannabis & Migraines: New Research, Long History

A new study, which vindicates generations of anecdotal evidence in showing that cannabis can be a potent treatment for migraine headaches, has been released by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

This current study is the first clinical trial to examine the effects of medical cannabis on migraine headaches, but is far from the first time the subject has been researched.

Dr. Ethan Russo, a researcher associated with GW Pharmaceuticals, authored a literature review in 1998 which analyzed the history of cannabis’ use for treating headaches, going back to 1874, and found it to be quite effective. Dr. Russo followed up on his study with another in 2008, which specifically discussed THC’s role in suppressing the pain of migraine headaches. Both of Dr. Russo’s studies called attention to the lack of clinical research and heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence. A 2015 literature review by another researcher came to similar conclusions, including the need for more scientific research.

The current study looked at 121 adults with the diagnosis of migraine headache who were offered a choice between traditional migraine treatments, or medical cannabis, who all choose cannabis over pharmaceuticals. With this study size, there is a margin of error that is nearly 10 percent, which means that, while the study found positive effects in 39.7 percent of patients (48 people), due to the margin of error, it was actually between 29.7-49.7 percent. It will take another study with a larger sample size to better understand what the benefits are, which based off the positive results seems likely. In those patients who saw benefits, on average, the frequency of migraines was reduced from more than ten, to less than five, a month.

The study did a poor job tracking which specific treatments patients were using, such as whether they were using THC, CBD, or a combination of the two. This may be why the researchers concluded that, “prospective studies should be conducted to explore a cause-and-effect relationship and the use of different strains, formulations, and doses of marijuana to better understand the effects of medical marijuana on migraine headache treatment.” Laura Borgelt, an author of the study, commented in the press release, that “there was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better,” but “like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It’s important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects.”

Only 11.6 percent of patients reported any negative effects, the most common were difficulty controlling the dose (2 patients, 1.7 percent) and drowsiness (2 patients, 1.7 percent), which were both due to edibles. Edibles generally caused more negative effects than all other forms of use, providing further proof that it is difficult to accurately dose with edibles. One limit of the study is that it only examined patients using cannabis by either smoking or eating edibles, it did not look at topicals, tinctures, trans-dermal patches, vaporization, or any other method of using cannabis.

Dr. Danielle Rhyne, another author of the study, speculated that the cause of migraines may be related to a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, “I believe this finding helps support further research for the endocannabinoid system and a deficiency in that system, potentially resulting in cannabis offering benefits in patients with this deficiency.” These views make sense given the findings of a 2007 study which found the reduced production of the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG had more instances of chronic migraines.

All things considered, cannabis appears to be an amazing treatment to both reduce the pain caused by migraines and to overall decrease their frequency. Hopefully the research community is ready to follow up on this preliminary trial with a bigger and better constructed study, until then it appears like THC-rich cannabis is the way to go.

Do you use cannabis to treat your migraines? Tell us about your experiences below.



  1. Deb Sanchez

    January 23, 2016 at 10:58 am

    I have had Chronic severe migraines for 35 years and cannibas is a lifesaver for me. I can function with MJ its the side effects that sometimes bother me (I forget what I’m doing etc…) I will fight for my right to have access to this medication and to be respected as I choose to take a medication that does not destroy my body! Some of the people that were in my life could not get past the stigma of “pothead”. I did not use marijuana for 3 years because I was so vilified at home. I began taking traditional narcotic migraine medication again and I suffered from rebound headaches as well as extra anxiety due to worry over side effects. I started using marijuana again to treat my migraines and got rid of the person who had the problem! I’m doing much better now and thankful that I have this medication to use when I need it ❤

  2. Sandi

    January 22, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Though I began taking cannabis instead of enduring chemo, I found it relieves my migraines for several years now. I have noticed the frequency and intensity of my migraines reduced in the time I have been taking cannabis. I prefer not to smoke so my form of medicating is edibles, oil or glycerin. I tried several “Big-Pharma meds” prescribed by various Dr.s but never found relief and the side affects were more than I wanted to deal with on a daily basis.. Thankful for this plant in so many ways!

  3. Véronique Smith

    January 22, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Yes I use it for migraines and depending on what kind it works it calms me down makes me less sensitive to light and noises as well as calms me down! Works a hell of alot better than the pills for migraines! V

    • Kim

      January 25, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      Where are you? And what dr. And what state are you in. I’m in nj.. my headaches are just getting worse.cant move vomit, have to stay in the dark for 5 days. It hurts so bad I want to blow my head off . And I have options migranes I have one now going away slowly

      • Kim

        January 25, 2016 at 7:49 pm

        All I can say is I’m on topamax helps a little but 10 days out of the month I’m in pain and with these optic migranes at least 2 to 3 a month . When you have a headache you take anything to make the pain go away.

  4. Nicole

    January 22, 2016 at 10:26 am

    I’ve been using cannabis to treat my chronic migraines for about a year now. I experience them less frequently, from about 3 weekly to a couple every other week.
    I also noticed that although the full pain relief may not be instant, there is an immediate decrease in the pain levels to where it’s manageable for contained daily functions.
    Typically a migraine keeps me bedridden in a dark, quiet room until hours later. With the use of cannabis I’m able to perform my daily tasks with no problem.

  5. Saun

    January 21, 2016 at 9:47 am

    I’ve tried many kinds of migraine medicine and the only thing that has actually worked for me is Cannabis. It helps with the nausea and the pain associated with a migraine. If I use cannabis at the start of a migraine, I can usually prevent it from becoming a full blown migraine. If I already have the migraine it takes a bit more Cannabis to help me feel comfortable again.

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