Migraine Headaches

Many patients have found that medical cannabis provides a safe and effective way to prevent and treat their migraine headaches…

Migraines are chronic headaches that can cause significant pain for hours or even days.  Some migraines are preceded or accompanied by sensory symptoms or signs known as “auras.”  These include flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in the arms or legs.  Migraines are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.  Symptoms can be so severe that many migraine sufferers need to find a dark, quiet place to lie down.

Migraine headaches are fairly common.  They affect around 18% of women and 6% of men.  The exact cause of migraines is unclear.  Some researchers feel that migraines are due to constriction followed by dilation of blood vessels in the brain.  Others feel that it may be due to mechanical or chemical disturbances in the brain itself.  Research has also shown that serotonin levels drop during migraines, which may result in headache pain.

Genetics and environmental factors also seem to play a role.  Whatever the exact mechanism of migraines may be, a number of things may trigger them.  Common triggers include hormonal changes in women, certain foods and alcohol, stress, changes in sleep pattern, changes in environment and certain medications.

Once diagnosed, a variety of drugs have been specifically designed to treat migraines.  Some drugs are taken to abort or treat the acute pain of migraines.  Others are taken regularly to reduce the severity or frequency of migraines.

Pain-relieving drugs commonly used to treat migraines include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), triptans, ergot compounds, anti-nausea medications, sedatives and even opiates.

Medications commonly used to prevent migraines include cardiovascular drugs such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers, antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs.
The sheer number of different types of medications used to treat migraines is an indicator that none of them is altogether successful.  Many of these prescription drugs are also associated with serious adverse reactions and side effects.

So you may be wondering how cannabis may be an effective treatment alternative for migraines.  First, it’s safe.  The most commonly reported side effects are dry mouth, tiredness and appetite stimulation.  The side effect profile of medical cannabis compares very favorably against the list of prescription drug categories that I just mentioned.  And, there has never been a death due to an overdose of cannabis.

Secondly, it’s effective.  History shows that cannabis has been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years for the treatment of migraines.  Today, tinctures are available that are absorbed under the tongue and work in minutes.  Inhalation of vaporized cannabis, as a preferable alternative to smoking, can produce relief more rapidly.

The cannabis plant contains over 100 unique chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, that work together to help relieve migraine symptoms.  Cannabis has anti-inflammatory, pain relieving and anti-nausea properties.  It also affects blood vessels; it relieves muscle cramps that can accompany migraines; and it lessens anxiety which can worsen the symptoms of migraines in some patients.

Medical cannabis works best when combined with a migraine prevention program and the use of natural relief strategies when an attack occurs – such as restricting light and sound.
A number of alternative treatment modalities may also be helpful if you have chronic headache pain.  These include: acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, herbs, vitamins and minerals.   Some supplements that may be helpful to prevent migraines include: feverfew, butterbur, riboflavin (vitamin B-2), coenzyme Q10, and possibly oral magnesium.  You shouldn’t use feverfew or butterbur if you’re pregnant.

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