Migraines are recurrent headaches that are moderate to severe in nature, and typically cause pulsating pain that often happens on one side of the head. They can last from hours to days, and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. They can be completely debilitating. Migraine sufferers also tend to experience depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. The exact causes are not known, but migraines may be caused by changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway.
Imbalances in brain chemicals—including serotonin, which helps to regulate pain in your nervous system—may also be involved. Researchers are still studying the role of serotonin in migraines, but serotonin levels in the brain drop during migraines. Migraines may be triggered by a variety of other factors, like hormonal changes, foods, food additives, drinks like coffee and alcohol, stress, and changes in sleep habits.
Recent studies are supporting a link between endocannabinoid system deficiency and migraines.1 Russo’s own work studying the use of cannabinoids for migraine treatment supports this theory.2 More recently, work done by researchers posits that triggers (mentioned above) initiate a chemical reaction in the brain, one that would normally stimulate the release of endogenous cannabinoids to restore balance. For reasons still unknown, migraine sufferers may not produce endogenous cannabinoids in the face of these triggers. This leads to a cascade of pain-inducing signals within the brain, which causes a dilation of blood vessels and an increase in pressure and swelling.3
In a recent study in human patients, results showed that THC and CBD in combination was an effective form of pain relief in high dosages (200 milligrams total).4 In the second phase of this study, some patients were prescribed 25 milligrams of Amitriptyline, an antidepressant commonly used for migraines, or 200 milligrams of the THC/CBD combination. After three months of use, it was shown that the THC/CBD medicine was most effective in treating acute pain during an attack, as opposed to decreasing the frequency or duration of attacks.
- Russo, “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency,” 192–200.
- Ethan B. Russo, “Cannabinoids in the Management of Difficult to Treat Pain,” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management 4, no. 1 (2008): 245–59, doi:10.2147/tcrm.s1928.
- Rosaria Greco et al., “Activation of CB2 Receptors as a Potential Therapeutic Target for Migraine: Evaluation in an Animal Model,” The Journal of Headache and Pain 15, no. 1 (2014): 14, doi:10.1186/1129-2377-15-14.
- “Cannabinoids Suitable for Migraine Prevention,” EAN, EAN, European Academy of Neurology, (2017) https://www.ean.org/amsterdam2017/fileadmin/user_upload/E-EAN_2017_-_Cannabinoids_in_migraine_-_FINAL.pdf.