Medical Marijuana for Migraine

Cannabis is probably the most satisfactory remedy for migraine.

Sir William Osler, MD, one of the founding professors of Johns Hopkins Medical School and revered by today’s medical community, made this statement in the late 1890’s.

Since 2000, when I began researching and writing (Headache Survival) about migraine, I’ve felt a deep compassion and greater appreciation for the acute pain and severe debilitation endured by migraine sufferers. I frequently hear stories from my patients about becoming incapacitated and unable to function, ER visits, or having to leave work immediately after the onset of a migraine. 

Among the 8300 medical marijuana (MMJ) patients I’ve worked with since 2011, migraine headache is one of the three most common diagnoses (in addition to low back pain and arthritis). Along with neuropathic (nerve) pain (e.g. neuropathy, shingles), it is also one of the two conditions that respond most dramatically to the healing energy of cannabis, if used properly.

I’ve also heard from the vast majority of migraineurs that they dislike the side-effects of the pharmaceuticals, usually Imitrex or another of the triptans.  Most of my new migraine patients have already obtained some relief with cannabis but are interested in guidance for consuming it most effectively, while others have never used it medicinally or at all. 

The primary focus of the MMJ treatment program is timing and preparedness.  Marijuana is far more effective for preventing than for treating migraines.  These horrific headaches typically begin with a warning, an aura (visual disturbance). There’s usually a 30-40 minute window between the aura and the onset of a full-blown migraine. If MMJ is vaporized (a device allowing inhalation without smoke [a potential trigger for migraine]) as soon as possible after the beginning of the aura, it will have a peak effect within3 to 5 minutes and prevent the onset of the painful headache. However, if the headache has already begun, it’s usually too late to experience the remarkable therapeutic benefits of marijuana.    

For patients with frequent migraines I suggest they have their vaporizer with them at all times, loaded with a Sativa (high-THC) or Hybrid (50:50/Sativa:Indica) strain.  Stress/anxiety is by far the most common trigger for migraine. I find it fascinating that although the psychoactive effect from THC is often accompanied by higher levels of anxiety, when the same high-THC strain is vaporized during the aura phase of a migraine, patients don’t get high and are not anxious. Since there is no smoke and therefore no odor with the vaporizer, it allows migraineurs to be discrete.

The primary cause of the emotional stress triggering most migraines, results from perfectionism.  Migraine sufferers are very hard on themselves, regardless of the activity in which they’re engaged. It’s not a boss, teacher, parent, or spouse making demands on them, the pressure is self-imposed. But if used preventively with intention, THC can expand their capacity to practice self-compassion and forgiveness. I recommend the daily recitation of the affirmation: I’m always doing the best I can, to all of my migraine patients.  This should be done whenever a self-critical thought occurs.  A helpful corollary to this affirmation: There are no mistakes, only lessons. 

By relieving pain, modifying the mind, and opening the heart, MMJ clearly demonstrates the powerful holistic healing properties of cannabis.