If you’ve ever suffered from a migraine headache, then you know how debilitating they can be. It’s estimated that over 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from the pulsating headaches which are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to light. Around 15 in 100 people in the UK suffer from at least one migraine attack every month. Up until quite recently, the only treatment options available for migraines were a variety of pharmaceutical drugs, including over-the counter medications as well as prescription pain-relievers. However, virtually every one of these pharmaceutical drugs, including common OTC medications such as ibuprofen, come with side effects ranging from mild to severe. Evidence is now mounting that cannabis can relieve migraine symptoms safely and effectively, and without any adverse side effects.
WHAT ARE MIGRAINES AND WHAT CAUSES THEM?
People who suffer from migraines experience headaches that can at times be debilitatingly painful. Along with the headaches themselves come increased sensitivity to light and sound, as well as nausea with vomiting. Migraines can also result in disorientation and problems with coordination. In very severe, although rare, cases, a migraine attack can also cause temporary paralysis or loss of consciousness. Most of the time, symptoms last for several hours, although they can last days in some instances. For those who suffer from migraines, the condition can often severely impair their quality of life.
Despite migraines being quite common, science knows surprisingly little about the exact causes of the condition. The common assumption today is that they are brought on by a variety of physiological and environmental triggers.
What is understood is that migraines most likely occur somewhere in the brain stem and nervous system, which interacts with the trigeminal nerve, the largest cranial nerve that controls pain sensation, motor control, and pain signalling in the face. Migraine triggers potentially activate neurons in the trigeminal nerve, therefore affecting the dilation of cerebral blood vessels, which in turn activates receptors for pain and inflammation. Some medical experts believe that migraines may also stem from imbalanced levels of serotonin, which is a chemical in the body that plays a role in pain signalling pathways. Moreover, it is possible that some people are more genetically predisposed to the condition than others.
HOW DOES CANNABIS WORK IN THE BODY?
Located throughout the human body is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a biological system consisting of endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body that bind to cannabinoid receptors) as well as cannabinoid receptor proteins that are found in the central nervous system and brain. The endocannabinoid system plays an important role in regulating many bodily functions such as pain, digestion, appetite, and mood.
Where cannabis comes in is that the phytocannabinoids found in the plant, such as THC and CBD, also bind to (or otherwise influence) these receptors in our body—just like the endocannabinoids. This means that the compounds in cannabis can also influence and regulate bodily functions, including pain control. This is one mechanism by which consuming cannabis is thought to potentially relieve migraine symptoms. But there are additional ways cannabis may help with migraines and associated conditions.