Medical Marijuana in the Treatment of Migraines

Migraines are one of the most common presenting complaints for medical marijuana doctors in California. Migraines can be debilitating, rendering their victims incapacitated for hours on end. They are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting and patients often have a strong aversion to any bright lights. While pharmaceuticals can improve migraines, they cannot get rid of them completely. For this reason, more and more patients are attempting to get their medical marijuana card in California for treatment of migraines headaches. But does medical marijuana improve the symptoms of migraines?

Unfortunately to date, there have been no randomized clinical trials to evaluate cannabinoids as acute or prophylactic therapy for migraine headaches. While there have been attempts to coordinate such clinical trials by well respected neurologist Dr. Russo, the federal government has so far refused to fund any such clinical trial. Thus, we are left with anecdotal and observational evidence.

Doctors have been treating migraines with cannabis since the 1800’s, as described in the writings of such historical medical luminaries as Sir William Osler, M.D. (considered the father of modern medicine) and Dr. Morris Fishbein (long-time editor of JAMA) as the best treatment for migraines. In more modern times, medical marijuana doctors in California have been noting anecdotal improvement in migraine symptoms in thousands of patients. Recently, in the Whittier Times, medical marijuana doctor, Dr. Demney, reported ‘Cannabis is one of the best medicines for migraines. It’s so effective – it works rapidly, and it has limited toxicity.” In addition, there has been recent review of literature by the Healthcare Center at the Cleveland Clinic that suggests cannabis has potential benefits in treated headache disorders, including migraines. In their review, they looked at 38 studies and found that 71% concluded that cannabinoids had empirically demonstrable and statistically significant pain-relieving effects.

The potential effects of medical marijuana can also be seen when looking at the most commonly prescribed class of drugs to treat migraines, triptans. These specialized drugs act on certain serotonin receptors in the body, a system with extensive connections to the endocannabinoid system. It has also been postulated by Dr. Eric Baron, of the Cleveland Clinic (who coincidentally is a pain management doctor and not a medical marijuana doctor) that endocannabinoid deficiency may cause migraines and other pain disorders. With such a close relationship between the endocannabinoid receptor system and pain and headaches, it is no wonder that hundreds of medical marijuana doctors have recommended medical marijuana to their patients with excellent relief of symptoms. However, even with this anecdotal evidence it is still important for researchers to conduct high quality studies and, until this happens, medical marijuana may never gain acceptance in the mainstream treatment of migraines.

Now that you know the evidence, let’s discuss how the best way to receive relief of your migraine headache with cannabis. We talked with several medical marijuana doctors at and the majority of doctors recommend smoking cannabis for fast relief and the first sign of a migraine. In addition to pain relief, the euphoric effects of cannabis may calm the patient down and relieve any stress or anxiety associated with the migraine. It is important to remember, just like any medication, there are risks to smoking medical marijuana that can include obstructive lung disease and lung cancer. Please consult your medical marijuana doctor prior to treatment with medical marijuana for a full list of risks, or view our previous blog post on risks of medical marijuana use.