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Key Points:

  • Medical benefits of cannabis for migraines are backed by scientific research. Several studies indicate that strains high in THC seem to be the most effective in relieving symptoms.
  • Obtaining medical cannabis in the UK is tightly regulated. You’ll need to see a specialist and get a referral from your GP before you can begin.
  • This method can be next to impossible for most patients and restricted to certain conditions, so a private clinic is likely your only option if you wish to obtain medical cannabis for chronic migraines.

If you suffer from migraines, you will know how debilitating they can be. Traditional treatments often have many unpleasant side effects, and sometimes they don’t work. You might then be wondering if medical cannabis could be a viable alternative for you.

People have used cannabis to treat migraines for centuries. It was one of the most common treatments for migraines until the 20th century. Unfortunately, due to cannabis’ varying legal status around the globe, research into its actual efficacy has been minimal. However, fresh evidence suggests that it could indeed be an effective treatment for migraines.

In this article, we shall look at migraines and why they’re often hard to treat. Then, we’ll look at medical cannabis for migraines and the research. Finally, we’ll answer whether medical cannabis for chronic migraines might be for you and how to obtain medical cannabis in the UK. Let’s get into it!

What Are Migraines?

Migraines are a type of headache that can cause severe pain, nausea, and vomiting. They often last for several hours or even days. Migraines can be so debilitating that they interfere with your ability to work or participate in activities you enjoy.

Symptoms of a migraine include:

  • Throbbing or pulsing pain
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and smell
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities

Research suggests that migraines are caused by changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. These changes result in the release of inflammatory chemicals that cause swelling and pain. The exact cause of these changes is unknown. However, scientists believe they are caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Some of the most common triggers for migraines include:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes (in women)
  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  • Skipping meals
  • Alcohol
  • Foods containing MSG
  • Foods that contain tyramine (aged cheeses, smoked meats, etc.)

Identifying and avoiding triggers is one of the best ways to prevent migraines. However, even if you can avoid all of your triggers, you may still suffer from migraines.

While migraines can be painful for anyone, they’re more common in women. Women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men. However, migraines are a huge problem for many, with both work and pleasure activities suffering:

  • An estimated 190,000 migraines are experienced every day in England
  • 6 million people suffer from migraines in the UK
  • Some clinicians consider 1 in 1000 people to be suffering from chronic migraines

With such a large number of people suffering from migraines, it’s no wonder that there’s a significant demand for effective treatments. Unfortunately, they can be hard to treat.

Why Are Migraines Hard To Treat?

Many people suffer from chronic migraines, meaning they have migraines more than 15 days per month. For these people, migraines can be extremely debilitating. This is only made worse by the difficulty in treating migraines.

There are several reasons for this:

  • The exact cause of migraines is unknown. This makes it difficult to develop targeted treatments.
  • There are many triggering factors, including stress, diet, weather, and hormonal changes. This makes it difficult to avoid them.
  • Migraines often don’t respond well to traditional medications. This is because changes in the brain cause migraines and most medications can’t cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the site of the problem.
  • Traditional migraine treatments often have many unpleasant side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, which can be just as debilitating as migraines.

Given all of these difficulties, it’s no wonder that many people are looking for alternative treatments such as medical cannabis for migraines.

Current Treatments for Migraines

There are a variety of treatments available for migraines. However, they don’t work for everyone and often have unpleasant side effects.

Some of the most common treatments for migraines include:

Over-the-counter pain relievers: These include ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. While they’re often effective in treating migraines, they can cause stomach ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems.

Triptans: These are prescription medications that narrow blood vessels around the brain. They’re often effective in treating migraines but can cause chest pain, flushing, and difficulty breathing.

Ergotamines: These are another type of prescription medication that narrows blood vessels around the brain. They’re often effective in treating migraines but can cause nausea and vomiting.

Anti-nausea medications: Doctors use these medications to treat nausea and vomiting associated with migraines. However, they don’t always work and can cause drowsiness.

As you can see, current treatments for migraines come with a variety of side effects. This is one of the reasons why many people are interested in exploring medical cannabis for migraines.

What Is Medical Cannabis?

Medical cannabis medicines derive from the cannabis plant. They contain several active compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Doctor hand holding bud of medical cannabis and pills.

CBD is known as the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. This means it doesn’t produce the “high” associated with cannabis use. THC, on the other hand, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It does give a “high”, but it also has several medicinal properties.

Medical cannabis is effective as a treatment for a variety of conditions, including:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Nausea

In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in using medical cannabis to treat migraines. This is because medical cannabis is considered a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain.

Medical Benefits of Cannabis for Migraines: The Research

There’s a growing body of research on the use of medical cannabis for migraines.

Three key studies in 2020 highlighted the medical benefits of cannabis for migraines:

A study from the University of Colorado found that people who used cannabis reported significantly higher migraine relief than those who didn’t use it (75.82% vs 51.01%). 

Meanwhile, a survey-based cross-sectional piece of research published in the Brain Sciences Journal looked at the use of phytocannabinoids in subsets of migraine patients. Patients who responded to medical cannabis therapy reported lower pain and disability scores and improved quality of sleep scores than non-responders. Medical cannabis usage reduced chronic migraine incidence in over 60% of individuals.

Finally, in a study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, researchers used data from the Releaf cannabis-tracking app to evaluate headache alleviation using cannabis flowers. Most users (94%) acquired relief in less than 2 hours, with symptom severity declining by 3.3 points on a scale of 0-10. Women and younger persons with headaches benefited the most from strains containing 10% THC or more.

In Summary

As you can see, there’s a growing weight on the use of medical cannabis for chronic migraines. These studies show that cannabis can reduce or eliminate chronic pain like migraines. THC or combination dosages seem to be more effective than CBD alone when treating migraines specifically.

Research published in Neurology found that a 20:1 ratio of THC to CBD was significantly more effective than a 1:1 ratio. In contrast, a 2019 study by Washington State University found no difference between higher or lower CBD or THC but that CBD oil was more effective than cannabis flower.

One downside of using THC medicinally is that it can have psychoactive properties, which could hinder cognitive and executive function over time. However, these studies have shown that sub-intoxicating levels of THC in combination with CBD reduce the side effects while maintaining analgesic action. They also conclude that some types of headaches respond better to different dosages and strains of cannabis. In either case, it seems that the medical benefits of cannabis for migraines is overwhelming.

Is it Safe To Use Medical Cannabis?

Experts generally consider medical cannabis for chronic migraines to be safe. Side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. These short-term side-effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach

In the long term, there’s evidence that medical cannabis can lead to several issues. There is often a misconception that the usage of cannabis can cause schizophrenia which is not scientifically proven, yet the association persists. Other problems might include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dependence
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

However, research on the long-term effects of medical cannabis is limited. You must talk to a doctor if you’re considering using medical cannabis to treat your migraines, something that we’re delighted to help you with here at Medical Cannabis Clinics.

How To Use Medical Cannabis for Chronic Migraines

Medical cannabis comes in the form of an oil which is taken under the tongue or flower that is vaped. It remains illegal to smoke medical cannabis in the UK.

Close-up of a girl with cannabis cigarette

The NHS will prescribe one of three different cannabinoids depending on what condition the patient is suffering from. They are Epidolex for children and adults with epilepsy, Nabilone for chemotherapy patients, and Nabiximols (Sativex) for multiple sclerosis (MS). At a private clinic, the options are wider.

Unlike medical cannabis, unprescribed over the counter CBD is classified as a food product. It is also an oil and it’s derived from the hemp plant. These oils don’t need to adhere to the same standards as medical cannabis.

If you’re using medical cannabis for chronic migraines, it’s recommended to start with a low dose and increase gradually as needed.  Everyone responds differently to medical cannabis, so it may take some trial and error to find what works for you. It’s also important to keep track of how much medical cannabis you’re using. This will help you avoid taking too much and experiencing negative side effects. Always follow your doctor’s advice.

Which Cannabis Strain Is Best for Migraines?

Several different medical cannabis strains are available, each with a different ratio of CBD to THC. Some strains are high in THC and low in CBD, while others are high in CBD and low in THC. The best strain for migraines will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Always follow your doctor’s advice. 

As mentioned earlier in the article, research indicates that the presence of THC can be beneficial when looking for a cannabis strain for migraines. With that said, more research is needed on which strains are best for migraines specifically but a qualified doctor will be able to evaluate your condition and determine what type of medical cannabis is suitable for your condition.

Is It Legal To Use Medical Cannabis in the UK?

The medical cannabis laws in the UK are changing. As of November 1st, 2018, it is legal to obtain medical cannabis in the UK with a doctor’s prescription. However, it’s important to note that not all types of cannabis are currently legal in the UK.

The 2018 regulations stated that only a doctor on the GMC specialist register is allowed “to legally issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines when they agree that their patients could benefit from this treatment.” This means that a GP cannot prescribe medical cannabis in the UK.

While medical cannabis is legal, doctors treat it on a case-by-case basis. It is only likely to be prescribed for patients with certain medical conditions. These include children and adults with severe epilepsy (Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome), adults undergoing chemotherapy, and patients with multiple sclerosis experiencing stiffness and spasms.

Equally, the patient must have tried two other treatments before their GP can refer them to a specialist doctor. They will then decide if medical cannabis is the right option. Given these immense restrictions, very few patients can legally access medical cannabis through the NHS. Despite the research showing the medical benefits of cannabis for migraines, it will be impossible to obtain it on the NHS.

However, several private clinics in the UK are now offering medical cannabis prescriptions. Private practices can prescribe cannabis for much more extensive medical needs. These include:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • HIV and AIDs
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Seizures

As such, debilitating migraines fall into the sphere of “pain.” You would need a diagnosis from a GP before you can begin the process.

Introducing the Medical Cannabis Clinics

The Medical Cannabis Clinics is the largest clinic specialisng in medical cannabis treatment in the UK and Jersey. We are proud to be home to the country’s most experienced specialist doctors treating patients with medical cannabis. We are committed to providing world-class care and safety to our patients.

EMBED: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT2OiofcAug

Our Medical Cannabis Clinics’ staff is committed to raising awareness about how medical cannabis may aid neurological, discomfort, and mental health problems. Our specialists are here to assist you in developing a treatment strategy that works for you. We can tailor your prescription to your specific circumstances and needs with additional support and adjustments.

If you need help to start changing and improving your quality of life, please get in touch with us and speak to an advisor today about our services.

Conclusion

While scientists need to do more research on the topic, there is evidence to suggest that the medical benefits of cannabis for migraines are high. Cannabis strains high in THC seem to be the most effective in reducing pain. However, starting with a low-THC strain is crucial if you’re new to medical cannabis.

If you’re in the UK, you’ll need to see a specialist on the NHS or get a diagnosis from your GP and access a private clinic before anyone can prescribe you medical cannabis. However, the NHS is impossible for migraines, meaning private clinics are your option. No matter the case, you should consult with a medical professional before beginning any treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a difference between medical cannabis and CBD oil for migraines?

There is a difference between medical cannabis and CBD oil for migraines. CBD oil does not contain THC, meaning that CBD oil might not be as effective for conditions that respond well to THC. However, CBD oil may still be beneficial for treating migraines or other conditions.

Why not simply buy street cannabis to self-medicate?

There are a few reasons why you should not buy street cannabis and self-medicate: It’s illegal. You don’t know what you’re getting. Dealers lace street cannabis with other illicit substances or chemicals that can be harmful. Medical cannabis is specifically grown to be high in THC or CBD, while street cannabis is not. Medical cannabis will be more effective for treating migraines than street cannabis.