People have a tendency to treat weed as a general cure for anything that’s ever happened. Doctors have been using cannabis as a treatment for everything from intestinal worms to liver ailments. Although the research we have in modern times is quite limited, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype that Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy started building in the 1800s.
Cannabis is hard to legally study in the United States, and even harder to get approved by the FDA. Some studies suggest that cannabis can help with migraines and headaches, but it largely depends on the kind of cannabis you use and the kind of pain you’re experiencing. It’s time to play the match game.
What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?
A headache is a pain in your head that can last minutes or days. The pain from a headache can be felt throughout the head, face, and neck. Headaches are often awful, but in most circumstances, they aren’t completely crippling.
A migraine is a severe headache that comes with additional symptoms. Many people feel nausea with headaches, They may vomit, lose vision, or find light and sound to be overstimulating. A headache is terrible to deal with, but a migraine is almost always debilitating.
What causes headaches and migraines?
Headaches can be caused by things like sinus pressure, vision problems, the common cold, or stress. Repetitive loud noises might cause you to develop headaches. You’re right to get angry at your upstairs neighbors for doing what can only be described as major league bowling on the floor above you. The constant stimulation from the sound can trigger a pounding headache that’s only soothed with sleep.
Migraines can be caused by anxiety, excessive drinking, hormonal fluctuations (like PMS, menopause, steroid use, or puberty), and certain neurological disorders. People living with conditions like multiple sclerosis often report migraines as a symptom.
When to see your doctor about migraines and headaches
If you’re experiencing your first headache or migraine and you weren’t warned that it could be a side effect of a medication you’ve recently started or it doesn’t have a clear cause, it’s wise to go to the emergency room. In all other cases, you should still talk to your doctor.
Both headaches and migraines can be cause for concern, particularly if they occur frequently. If you’re experiencing pain in your head, you should see a doctor to rule out major factors that can negatively impact your health in the long term.
There is a class of drugs called triptans that are used specifically to treat headaches. They can’t prevent a headache, but they provide relief to people who live with migraines or painful cluster headaches. If your migraines cause nausea, your doctor might recommend a medication to treat nausea.
How cannabis fits into the picture
Your doctor isn’t going to prescribe cannabis for your headaches because the FDA has not yet approved cannabis or any cannabis-related drug for the treatment of headaches or migraines.
If you want cannabis for your pain, you need to ask your doctor if you’re a good candidate. You can obtain a medical cannabis card and purchase your cannabis from a dispensary, or you can get your doctor’s advice on the matter and go to a recreational dispensary.
Does cannabis really help with headaches and migraines?
Cannabis is not yet a recognized treatment for either condition on the official books, and it’s unknown if we’ll ever get there. The FDA is extremely hesitant to approve any type of cannabis or cannabinoid-based drug due to cannabis’s status as federally illegal.
The only FDA-approved cannabis-related drug is CBD in the form of Epidiolex for seizures in some patients. Another is Marinol for patients with cancer or AIDs, but Marinol isn’t even actual cannabis—it’s dronabinol, a lab-created equivalent to THC.
That having been said, studies have been conducted on cannabis and pain and symptoms from headaches or migraines. The results probably aren’t what you’re hoping for. Patients self-assessed their headaches and migraines following cannabis use, and patients self-report feeling about 50% better. It’s not a complete elimination of migraine pain, but it’s an improvement.
These studies haven’t been approved or reviewed by the necessary review boards, and therefore cannot be accepted as fact. The outcome of the study makes them even less likely to move further through official studies or clinical trials.
As much as we love weed, we have to be honest here. The only evidence we have isn’t of the highest quality, and it’s hard to quantify feeling “halfway better.” We don’t know if those people’s headaches would have gradually eased up even if they didn’t smoke the weed. We also don’t know how much of it was the placebo effect, or the weed simply distracting them from the pain in their head.
Before you lose hope, there are a few things very important to note. Most studies on cannabis and its derivatives use isolated THC or isolated CBD. They don’t account for all 113 cannabinoids and the 15 major terpenes. They aren’t even present in the study. Basically, they’ve isolated plain lettuce and equated it to a cobb salad. There is no fair comparison at work.
When people say that cannabis is helping their headaches, they may be telling the truth. It simply hasn’t been explored from the angle of using specific strains of cannabis in their whole form. There’s no telling if or when studies will ever progress that far.
What we know for sure is that there is compelling evidence for The Entourage Effect, a term coined by esteemed cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo that explains how every single part of the cannabis plant works together in unique synergy. This might be why so many people anecdotally claim to find migraine relief from their pot.
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Your personal experience with cannabis and migraines may not be reflected within the current scope of research. Tailoring your approach to cannabis for migraines may positively shape your experience.
Pairing your strain to your headache
Based on self-reporting, these are the strains that people who use cannabis for their migraines typically report the best results with. Most people with migraines aren’t looking to feel alert and jaunty. They gravitate towards indicas to help promote better rest and relaxation.
ACDC is a high CBD strain, and that’s its appeal. People who use ACDC do so because they don’t want to get high. They want to relax. CBD can support relaxation. People who are wound up tightly and dealing with a headache tend to gravitate towards CBD for its soothing ability.
Northern Lights is a heavy powerhouse. It’s not necessarily friendly to first-time users — it’s high in THC and it hits pretty hard. People associate this strain with the “couch-lock” phenomena, where they feel that getting out of their chair is a daunting and impossible task. If you’re dealing with a headache, you might crave the feeling of being planted in a comfortable spot.
Any purple indica or purple hybrid
Many people who live with pain like purple strains, like Purple Punch, Grape Ape, and Granddaddy Purps. Purple indicas have developed a reputation for being soothing and tranquil, which is exactly what someone in a tough spot needs.
Blueberry and its child strains
Blueberry, Blue Dream, and their related strains are a favorite among medical cannabis users. Blueberry is an indica, and other strains created with Blueberry are typically indicas, indica leaning hybrids, or well-balanced hybrids. If you have a walking headache and you still want to remain partially alert, Blue Dream might be your best bet.
Although the science on cannabis and migraines is technically still out, many people who live with headaches or migraines tend to favor the way that certain stains make them feel while they’re dealing with their symptoms.
If you have headaches or migraines regularly, or unbearable pain in your head, this warrants adequate and immediate medical attention. If you’ve already spoken to your doctor about it, adding weed to your list of things to do when you have a headache might be a beneficial move.
If your head hurts and you have a particular strain in mind, place an order on Emjay. Go get comfy and set up a quiet place to chill out for a while. We’ll be at your door with the weed you ordered in about half an hour. Take it easy for the rest of the night.