Migraines are described as recurrent headaches which are characterized by certain key features including; nausea, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and vomiting. Some people also experience a phenomenon called an aura, which is a sensory disturbance that includes flashes of light, blind spots, and other vision changes or tingling in the hand or face.
Usually, analgesic medications like Tylenol or Advil are recommended to alleviate the pain.
However, a more severe form of headaches known to many as migraines affects millions around the world and can be harder to treat. Physicians usually give stronger medication to manage the pain associated with these kinds of headaches.
Cannabis, however, and cannabidiol (CBD) in particular, has been proving to be beneficial in the treatment of many patients suffering from migraines. Though the substance does not cure the pain, it does manage to alleviate the pain without the many side effects experienced by using other migraine medications.
The properties of migraines
Usually, the pain is unilateral, meaning it only affects one side of the brain. The pain must be pulsating in nature that increases in intensity upon physical exertion. Nausea and vomiting with photosensitivity, as previously indicated, will also be present in most patients.
There appear to be genetic and environmental factors which contribute to the incidence of the condition and changing hormones have also been indicated to play a factor as well. This can explain why most women tend to experience migraines during the time of their menstrual cycle when their hormones are at the highest inconsistencies.
Migraines are neurovascular, meaning they start in the brain and then spread through the body to the blood vessels. Physicians believe that vasoconstriction, the constriction of blood vessels, is the main cause of the pain experienced by most people.
Diagnosis and treatment of migraines
Diagnosis is determined based on symptoms. Imaging is not necessarily used but can rule out other conditions causing the migraines.
For migraines without auras, the patient must have had five episodes within a week, that number is reduced to two if aura does presently. Duration can last anywhere from four hours to three days. If the pain affects day to day functions like work or study diagnosis is made rather quickly.
As for treatment, medications used to treat migraines include topiramate, propranolol – which is usually given as a heart medication because it helps alleviate vasoconstriction, gabapentin, pregabalin, amitriptyline, and venlafaxine are also used to alleviate symptoms.
How cannabis helps alleviate migraines
Many patients who resort to cannabis as a last resort have usually tried many of these medications in conjunction with one another with little to no relief. Some have even tried recommended alternative therapies like acupuncture with little relief.
Cannabis seems to target the pain receptors in the brain and in the peripheral vessels of the body to minimize the pain associated with a migraine. Researchers also hail cannabis’ ability to remedy endocannabinoid deficiency by activating CB2 receptors as a possible method it uses to help alleviate pain symptoms.
Cannabis also helps with nausea and vomiting normally seen with migraine headaches. The different cannabinoids in cannabis work alongside terpenes to help alleviate nausea, which in turn helps to alleviate vomiting.
These studies, however, are extremely preliminary and scientists agree that more funds need to be channeled into cannabis research so we can better understand the mechanisms of the plant. And when compared to pharmaceutical drugs like pregabalin and amitriptyline – which have many undesirable side effects, cannabis may be worth trying as a viable herbal alternative.