Medical Marijuana Significantly Decreases Migraine Frequency, Study Shows

People who suffer with migraine headaches had a significant drop in their frequency when using medical marijuana, according to a study published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.

Researchers from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus examined 121 patients diagnosed with migraines and treated with medical marijuana between January 2010 and September 2014.  They found the frequency of migraines dropped from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month, which is both statistically and clinically significant.

Of the 121 people studied, 103 reported a decrease in monthly migraines, 15 reported the same number of migraines, and three people saw an increase in migraines.

“There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better,” said the study’s senior author Professor Laura Borgelt, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS. “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.”

About a two-thirds of the patients studied had a history of or were currently using cannabis at the time of their initial visit.  Inhaled marijuana appeared to be the favorite for treating acute migraines while edible cannabis, which takes longer to impact the body, helped prevent headaches.

Borgelt said cannabinoid receptors can be found throughout the body and appear to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. These cannabinoids also seem to affect critical neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

“We believe serotonin plays a role in migraine headaches, but we are still working to discover the exact role of cannabinoids in this condition,” she said.

The study is one of the first to reveal a drop in migraine frequency due to medical marijuana, noting that the results were remarkable.  The study authors stressed the need for more controlled clinical studies in the future.

“If patients are considering medical marijuana they should speak to their health care provider and then follow up so we can track the impact of their overall treatment,” Borgelt said. “Open communication is necessary because we need to know how all of these treatments work together.”

A migraine headache can cause intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraine headaches can cause significant pain for hours to days.  Some migraines are preceded or accompanied by sensory warning symptoms (aura), such as flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in your arm or leg.  Migraine symptoms often include a pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity.

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