If you’re on what seems like an endless hunt for migraine relief, you’ve probably seen cannabis touted as a pain reliever for migraine and headaches.
But does weed help a migraine attack? What about taking CBD for headaches?
We turned to actual science (ahem, not your college roommate) to find answers to your burning questions.
Does weed help treat migraine attacks?
Cannabis contains active compounds known to reduce pain and decrease the duration and frequency of headaches, so it *might* help a migraine episode.
Researchers have found that inhaling cannabis offers faster relief than eating cannabis products. However, recent findings suggest that too much cannabis can trigger rebound headaches.
So while there’s limited evidence that weed can help soothe migraine pain, the jury’s still out on the overall safety, effectiveness, and optimum dose. We need more research to know for sure.
Weed is nothing new, but scientific studies on cannabis are slim since it’s considered a controlled substance.
Still, there has been some research on how cannabis might affect the body’s response to pain (which miiiiight transfer to headache and migraine pain). Let’s break it down:
- Your body has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Endocannabinoids = natural neurotransmitters that influence everything from blood pressure and pain to nausea response and immune system function.
- Cannabinoids in cannabis can influence your body’s ECS. Active compounds like THC and CBD might be able to communicate and trigger reactions in your body just like endocannabinoids.
- Cannabis might help your ECS stay on track. The ECS is complex. But it seems that when certain receptors get the signal from endocannabinoids *or* cannabinoids, they might produce positive effects like dialing down inflammation or relieving swelling.
- But weed doesn’t necessarily = pain relief. Your ECS does influence your experience with pain. And cannabis does seem to influence your ECS. But researchers say the evidence for weed’s pain-busting powers is “limited.” It seems like weed *might* work for pain relief by mimicking your body’s natural anti-inflammatory processes, but there’s still so much more to learn.
Maybe. There are anecdotal accounts of weed releasing the vice grip of migraine pain, but there haven’t been enough studies to confirm cannabis as an effective, safe treatment.
A 2021 review suggested that medical cannabis can reduce the frequency *and* duration of migraine attacks. Still, the researchers concluded that more studies are needed “once cannabis becomes legalized.” In other words, watch this space 😉!
One 2019 study of 1,306 people specifically found that inhaling cannabis could soothe migraine pain by nearly 50 percent. That’s no small feat.
The researchers said this study was the first to get real-time feedback from folks living with migraine or other chronic headaches. That’s super cool, but it also highlights the lack of other research to confirm their findings.
One study found that peeps who smoke cannabis were significantly more likely to develop a post-attack rebound headache than those who didn’t use weed.
Part of the trouble might be that while inhaling cannabis gets those *potentially* anti-inflammatory cannabinoids into your system faster, inhaling has also been linked to dehydration. And dehydration is a known migraine trigger.
First, a quick review: CBD and weed aren’t interchangeable terms. Weed comes from a cannabis plant or plant material that naturally contains cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is just cannabidiol, a teensy compound found in all cannabis plants.
Wellness stans love CBD because it’s been linked to all kinds of “high”-free health benefits:
- stress reduction
- less inflammation
- relief from chronic pain
- better sleep
Even the American Migraine Foundation calls CBD oil “a viable option” for migraine-associated joint pain and muscle soreness. Research also suggests that CBD can help you relax. That’s good news for folks with stress-triggered migraine.
That said, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved CBD for headaches. More studies are needed to prove CBD’s safety and effectiveness against migraine attacks.
Even research-backed, doc-approved meds often come with a long list of safety warnings.
Measuring the risks of cannabis is tricky because there’s no medical consensus on the proper dose. Why? Because more research is needed — and research lags behind sluggish legalization.
Contrary to popular belief, you *can* overdose on weed. But overdose basically means you’ve taken more than the recommended amount. Signs of using too much weed include:
- paranoia or panic attacks
- lack of coordination
- rapid heart rate
- chest pain
- blood pressure spikes
- sudden headache
- unresponsiveness (🚨 get medical care ASAP! 🚨)
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also lists possible long-term effects of regular use:
- potential brain function impairment
- breathing problems (from smoking, obvi)
- higher risk of heart attack
- cycles of nausea and dehydration
There’s also a risk that cannabis or CBD products will react with medications. So whether you’re taking over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription meds for migraine, you should talk with your doctor before turning to medical cannabis or CBD products.
It’s not always legal to use weed for migraine relief.
Medical cannabis is permitted in many states, but each law has different stipulations — where you can buy it, how much you can buy at one time, etc. There’s also a chance cannabis may not be legal in your area at all.
Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
Cannabis isn’t the only natural remedy for migraine attacks. Here are some THC-free ways to naturally help migraine symptoms:
- Avoid triggers. Dial down your caffeine and alcohol consumption, prevent dehydration, and do what you can do to reduce stress.
- Breathe in calming aromas. Diffusing calming essential oils like lavender and peppermint might help relieve some migraine symptoms.
- Apply pressure. Some older research suggests that acupressure can help chronic headaches.
- Try a cool compress. Cold narrows your blood vessels, which might help ease pain.
- Turn out the lights. Step away from the screens and dim the lights. Many folks seek a cool, quiet refuge to ride out migraine attacks.
- OTC meds. Medications you can get over the counter — like ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen — can help keep occasional migraine attacks at bay.
Of course, home remedies don’t always cut it. It’s OK to seek sweet relief at home, but only a medical professional can diagnose a migraine condition. Always tell your doctor if you start to experience migraine headaches *or* if your attacks increase in frequency or severity.
Migraine attacks are no joke. And the stress of anticipating the next wave of pain doesn’t help.
But “Does weed help migraines?” is a pretty tricky question. That’s because rolling a reefer isn’t like taking a prescription med. What’s your dose? Frequency? Product quality? And is medical cannabis even legal in your area?
Preliminary research on cannabis for migraine attacks is promising. But it’s too soon to say for sure. If you’re curious about medical cannabis or CBD for migraine, talk with a medical pro. Together you can come up with a safe plan for pain relief.