Cannabis Reduces Headache, Migraine Severity by Nearly Half, Study Shows

November 27, 2019
Matthew Gavidia
Matthew Gavidia

Inhaled cannabis was shown to reduce self-reported headache and migraine severity by nearly 50%, according to study findings.

Inhaled cannabis was shown to reduce self-reported headache and migraine severity by nearly 50%, according to a November study published in the Journal of Pain.1

As the study authors note, the use of cannabis as a treatment to alleviate headache and migraine is relatively common, but research on its effectiveness is limited. Previous studies surveyed patients on recollections of their cannabis use in the past, with 1 clinical trial indicating that a synthetic cannabinoid, nabilone, was better than ibuprofen in alleviating headache.

The novel study is the first to utilize a large data set from patients using inhaled cannabis for headache and migraine treatment in real time. Lead study author Carrie Cuttler, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University, said in a statement that the researchers wanted to approach the study in an ecologically valid way, in which actual patients are using whole plant cannabis to medicate in their homes and environment.2 “These are also very big data, so we can more appropriately and accurately generalize to the greater population of patients using cannabis to manage these conditions,” said Cuttler.

In the study, researchers sought to determine whether the inhalation of cannabis decreases headache and migraine severity ratings, while also focusing on whether gender, tolerance, type of cannabis (concentrate versus flower), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), or dose contribute to changes in treatment efficacy. They derived data from Strainprint, an app that allows patients to track symptoms before and after using different strains and doses of cannabis. The study group included 1306 medical cannabis users who used the app 12,293 times to track changes in headache and 653 medical cannabis users who used the app 7441 times to track changes in migraine severity.

Study results exhibited a significant reduction of 47.3% in headache ratings (mean baseline severity rating = 5.79; mean postcannabis use severity rating = 2.74) and 49.6% in migraine ratings (mean baseline severity rating = 6.65; mean postcannabis use severity rating = 3.30), with 88.1% of patients with migraine and 89.9% of patients with headache reporting severity reduction.

Researchers uncovered that patients using cannabis concentrates, such as cannabis oil, produced a larger reduction in headache severity ratings than cannabis flower, but authors noted this may be overstated due to its minor representation in the data set (3.4% of headache episodes). There was no significant difference in pain reduction among cannabis strains that were higher or lower in levels of THC and CBD, but study authors stated that tolerance to cannabis potentially developed over time as patients began using larger doses.

Cuttler highlighted that there could be slight overestimates of effectiveness due to the study’s lack of placebo control, but through further research, trends can be delineated to confirm findings. “My hope is that this research will motivate researchers to take on the difficult work of conducting placebo-controlled trials. In the meantime, this at least gives medical cannabis patients and their doctors a little more information about what they might expect from using cannabis to manage these conditions,” said Cuttler.

References

1. Cuttler C, Spradlin A, Cleveland MJ, Craft RM. Short and long-term effects of cannabis on headache and migraine [published online November 9, 2019]. J Pain. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.11.001.

2. Zaske S. Cannabis reduces headache and migraine pain by nearly half [news release]. Pullman, WA: Washington State University; November 25, 2019. news.wsu.edu/2019/11/25/cannabis-reduces-headache-migraine-pain-nearly-half. Accessed November 26, 2019.