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Study: Cannabis for Migraines & Headaches

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Brought to you by the Higher Learning LV Cannabis for Anxiety seminar.


Welcome to Higher Learning LV's Study Summary series. This series reviews and summarizes peer-reviewed research studies and was developed specifically for cannabis industry professionals. These study summaries provide easily digested quick reads for a variety of important issues regarding the commerce and chemistry of legal cannabis.

A woman suffering a migraine headache puts her fingers to her temples.
Does pot help migraines?

Cannabis for Migraines Study

Cannabis for Migraines. A 2021 study entitled "Medical Cannabis, Headaches, and Migraines: A Review of the Current Literature" that was published in the journal Cureus investigated the potential benefits of treating migraine headaches with medical cannabis. Reported the study, "The purpose of the review article is to document the validity of how medical cannabis can be utilized as an alternative therapy for migraine management."

"Cannabis has been used since ancient times for both medical and recreational use. Past research has shown that cannabis can be indicated for symptom management disorders, including cancer, chronic pain, headaches, migraines, and psychological disorders (anxiety, depression, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)," reported the study.

"Cannabis has been used since ancient times for both medical and recreational use [and] can be [used to treat] cancer, chronic pain, headaches, [and] migraines."

The study's authors noted that the active compounds in cannabis "that modulate patients' perceptions of their conditions" include cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), flavonoids, and terpenes.

The literature review study examined 34 previously published studies using the PubMed and Google Scholar databases and employed the keyword searches "Cannabis," "Medical Marijuana," "Headache," "Cannabis and Migraine," and "Cannabis and Headache."

A man in a cannabis lounge in Toronto, Canada.
Cannabis might help migraines.

"In migraines, current theory suggests that the CB [receptor] system [of the endocannabinoid system] mitigates migraine through several pathways (glutamine, inflammatory, opiate, and serotonin)," reported the study's authors. They reported that cannabinoids "also demonstrate...anti-inflammatory effects."

Cannabis for Migraines Study: Results

Cannabis for Migraines. A 2020 study reviewed reported that medical cannabis consumption led to "better migraine symptom reduction, less negative headache impact, better sleep quality, and decreased medication consumption" among study subjects.

A 2019 study that was analyzed investigated inhaled cannabis for migraine treatment demonstrated that headaches were reduced by 47 percent and migraines by 50 percent. A 2018 study showed "the significant advantage of medical marijuana in improving nausea and vomiting associated with migraines." Likewise, a 2016 study showed "a significant reduction in migraine frequency with medical marijuana."

"Medical cannabis resulted in headaches being reduced by 47 percent and migraines by 50 percent."

However, not all research examined revealed positive efficacy for all study subjects. Adverse reactions to medical cannabis use included "dizziness, dry mouth or eyes, nausea, vomiting, and psychosis." Although some patients reported negative symptoms resulting from consumption of cannabis, "patients have an overall favorable view of using medical cannabis along with or in place of medications." Overall, cannabis caused a "decrease [in] the frequency and duration of migraines."

A pair of cannabis plants.
Cannabis may reduce migraines.

"Despite mixed findings regarding the effectiveness of medical cannabis on both headaches and migraines, there is a consensus for the indication of medical marijuana therapy when first and second-line treatment fails," reported the study. It found the primary cannabis consumption avenue by migraine sufferers to be smoking, followed by vaporization and dabbing (vaporized concentrates).

Cannabis for Migraines Study: Conclusions

Cannabis for Migraines. This literature review study concluded that all of the studies that it examined revealed "encouraging data on medicinal cannabis's therapeutic effects on alleviating migraines." It found both short- and long-term benefits derived by those who use cannabis to treat headaches and migraines.

This literature review study concluded that all of the studies that it examined revealed "encouraging data on medicinal cannabis's therapeutic effects on alleviating migraines.

Among the specific benefits provided by cannabis was a reduction of daily analgesics (pain medication), a lowered dependence to these drugs, and—most important—a decrease in pain intensity. The study noted that some migraine patients "experienced a prolonged and persistent improvement in their health and well-being (both physically and mentally) after long-term use of medicinal cannabis" and that positive efficacy outweighed adverse effects.

A man holds his head in pain from a headache.
Studies show benefits from pot.

The study's authors also reported that many medical providers and wellness practitioners "are hesitant to recommend medical cannabis due to a lack of current evidence, medical professional training, and uniform medical cannabis use guidelines."

The research noted that additional research is needed to determine the best delivery methods, dosing, and optimal cultivars ("strains") for the management of migraines and chronic headaches.

Many medical providers "are hesitant to recommend medical cannabis due to a lack of current evidence and medical professional training."

Concluded the study, "While medical cannabis is in a 'disorganized realm' at the moment due to a lack of substantial research, medical provider education, and patient education, this field is evolving and expanding to provide up-to-date research for both patients and doctors."

View the original study.

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