About a billion people suffer from migraines, making it the third most common illness in the world. Bouts last for between four and 72 hours. A study has revealed that cannabis is better at lessening the occurence of acute migraine pain than prescription drugs and has less in the way of side-effects.
What it was
The study, by the Interuniversity Centre of Florence, Italy, covered 79 people who were afflicted by chronic migraines and cluster headaches, which have differing causes and symptoms. Migraines usually affect both sides of the head and migraine pain frequently occurs in tandem with light sensitivity, nausea, tingling or numbness of the face or extremities and vomiting. Cluster headaches, meanwhile, are severe headaches that crop up on one side of the head, usually close to an eye, and the condition is much less common.
Study participants were given cannabis’ two active compounds – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – orally. THC gets you stoned; CBD doesn’t. People were given different doses of THC/CBD, and those with chronic, acute migraines who received 200mg (0.007oz) every day for three months with a further four weeks of monitoring experienced considerably less migraine pain ? 43.5 percent, to be exact, with lower doses much less effective and less than half this amount having no effect at all. Cluster headaches were reduced by 40.4 percent, slightly more than the 40.1 percent reduction that followed from taking the prescription drug amitriptyline; this was more probable in people who had suffered since childhood. Lead researcher Dr Maria Nicolodi described cannabis as ?an alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention.?
Of course, there are side-effects
On the plus side, some of the side-effects were fewer stomach aches and less muscle pain and colitis – inflammation of the rectum and colon, which is no fun at all. To nobody’s great surprise, among the adverse side-effects were sleepiness and difficulty concentrating. This compares to the anxiety, blurry vision, constipation, dry mouth, hypersensitivity, memory loss and tachycardia associated with tricyclics, the most popular conventional remedy. Would you rather be constipated? Hence Ian Hamilton, who lectures on mental health at the University of York, commented that cannabis ?provides promise for people who experience adverse effects from prescription medication.?
Why it happens
The reason for the success of cannabis in this respect is believed to be that cannabinoids prevent the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which narrows blood vessels and triggers migraine pain. They might also be anti-inflammatory.
And there’s more
This research was presented at the third Congress of the European Academy of Neurology in Amsterdam and has not undergone peer review. Nevertheless, Dr William Young, director of the world-famous headache centre of Jefferson University hospital, called it the most promising study going.
In 2016, another study by the University of Colorado’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences that was published in the journal Pharmacotherapy also found medical marijuana to reduce headache frequency by half, with smoking providing immediate relief and edibles taking longer and more likely to cause sleepiness.