BY MARIE LODI
Severe, throbbing head pain, nausea, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to light...sound familiar? Chances are, you (and/or someone you know) are well acquainted with the debilitating experience of a migraine. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, more than 4 million adults have a migraine every single day, with at least 15 migraines occurring per month. It’s the third most prevalent illness in the entire world. Migraine sufferers are at risk for depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, not to mention the diminished quality of life.
While there may be different triggers for migraines, such as certain foods, changes in the weather, strong perfumes, and a woman’s menstrual cycle, there is still a lot we don’t know about the actual physiological cause. Lab tests conducted in the ‘90s suggest that migraines may be caused by inflammation of the dura mater, or the outer casing of the brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, this may be connected with serotonin levels, which drop during migraine attacks. When they drop, the trigeminovascular system is triggered to release neuropeptides which travel to the dura mater, resulting in migraine.
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is our body’s way of maintaining homeostasis. It contains receptors CB1 and CB2, plus the two major endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. These endocannabinoids regulate neuropeptide release. And the presence of anandamide is usually decreased in the cerebral spinal fluid of migraine patients.
There are several reasons why cannabis may help alleviate migraine pain. First, both THC and CBD are anti-inflammatory. CBD also hinders the activity of the enzyme, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). This is important because FAAH likes to break down anandamide, so putting the kibosh on FAAH allows anandamide to do its thing and stop the pain. “CBD can activate serotonin receptors which support its role as a potential migraine prophylactic,” Dr. Josh Kaplan, neurologist and cannabis expert, says. However, Kaplan underscores that at this point in the research process, these potential benefits of CBD have not been empirically assessed.
There’s still hope, however. A 2016 study examined over 100 migraine patients and found that with cannabis consumption, monthly headaches decreased over 50%. Another study showed that migraines could be connected to a theoretical condition called “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.” And a 2017 study found that cannabis was more effective at decreasing the frequency of migraines than prescription medicine.
Kaplan does point out that if someone chooses to treat migraines with cannabis, there may be a risk of developing tolerance in the process. “Someone who is frequently using THC-rich cannabis to treat their migraines could theoretically worsen the problem over time by desensitizing CB1 receptors to both THC and endogenous cannabinoids.” However, this has also not been empirically tested. “Interestingly, there is a pending patent on using cannabis to treat migraines,” Kaplan points out. “Apparently, 5% of patients at a medicinal cannabis shop in Oakland use cannabis for treating migraines, so there's a market for it!”
You can find many THC-rich and CBD-rich cannabis products at your local MedMen cannabis dispensary!