Surviving Migraines with Cannabis

Migraine Cannabis Now Magazine

Medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for severe head pains.


Distorted vision, excruciating headache, intense nausea, extreme sensitivity to stimuli; few things are as instantly debilitating as a severe migraine.

For Pamela Hadfield, co-founder of HelloMD — an online service offering medical marijuana recommendations and advice — migraines were a lifelong problem.

“It basically felt like a bolt of lightning hit my head,” Hadfield says, recalling her first migraine. “I got very ill for a period of days, I was vomiting, I saw the aura [lights in front of your eyes that cause a loss of sight] and a pounding sensation where your head feels like it is going to explode off of your neck… It is a very uncontrollable feeling.”

What started as an occasional migraine intensified into a regular occurrence. At their worst, the migraines left her completely debilitated.

As a mother of three working full time, migraines were not only extremely painful for Hadfield, they were interfering with her life and causing constant anxiety. Her doctor’s best solution was a Vicodin prescription, which helped with the pain, but left her worrying about her own developing dependence on the drug and the sustainability of using it long term.

“I always carried a full bottle of Vicodin with me, wherever I’d go, just in case,” she says.

When new restrictions on Vicodin threatened her ability to keep using it, she knew she needed a better option.

That’s when a friend suggested cannabis.

At first, Hadfield was skeptical. Her past experiences with cannabis had been in a recreational setting and they hadn’t been particularly enjoyable. But desperate to find a solution for her migraines, she decided to give it a try.

The results have been incredible. While Hadfield hoped the cannabis use might help her deal with migraine pain, she didn’t expect that it would cure her migraines completely. But it’s been two and half years since Hadfield has had a migraine, and in that time, taking a regular dose of high-CBD cannabis is the only change she’s made to her routine.

Hadfield is not the only patient to find migraine relief from cannabis. Research suggests that cannabis use can significantly reduce migraine frequency.

In one 2016 study from “Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy,” 85 percent of participants reported less migraines with the use of cannabis and average headaches per month dropped from 10.4 to 4.6.

Researchers believe there are several mechanisms that might explain cannabis’ helpful effects. First, cannabis can help reduce the body’s natural stress response — which can be a strong contributor to the onset of a migraine — and second, THC and CBD help aid in pain relief directly as potent pain-killers and anti-inflammatory agents.

THC can also aid in migraine relief by raising serotonin levels. And while the role of serotonin in migraines isn’t fully understood, migraines are potentially linked to low serotonin levels, with some suggesting that increases in those levels may help ease migraine symptoms.

But researchers also warn that taking too much THC could have negative effects, actually increasing migraine symptoms. So starting with small doses and working your way up slowly is advised.

As for Hadfield, she is now migraine and Vicodin free, but says she still carries a bottle containing the same few pills that were in it years ago when she switched to cannabis.

“I took it out one day and realized that I hadn’t actually taken a Vicodin in months,” she says. “It is a big reminder for me because sometimes I see that pill bottle and I am like, ‘Wow, that is a problem that no longer plagues me. And that was 25 years of severe migraines.’”

Her advice to others in a similar situation? It’s natural to focus on immediate pain relief, but don’t forget to pay attention to preventative measures.

“You might smoke for immediate pain relief or eat an edible, and it often will help relieve the pain,” Hadfield says. “[But] when I took CBD on a consistent basis… I realized that it was a preventative measure and I no longer get migraines… I have not gotten a migraine in two and a half years.”

While not everyone has results as dramatic as Hadfield’s, she encourages others to treat cannabis like any other preventative option and not to wait until it’s the last resort.

Originally published in Issue 27 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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Dr. Emily Earlenbaugh is a cannabis patient consultant and wellness researcher. She is the author of the online course “The Mindful Guide to Cannabis” and has a doctorate in philosophy of science from UC Davis.

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