Medical Marijuana May Reduce Migraine Headaches

By Pat Anson, Editor

New research is adding to the growing body of evidence that medical marijuana can be used to treat migraine headaches.

In a small study of 121 migraine patients by researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado, 103 patients reported a significant decrease in the number of migraine headaches they had every month. The frequency of headaches dropped from an average of 10.4 to 4.6 per month. Most patients used more than one form of marijuana and used it daily. The study was published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.

"There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better," said senior author Professor Laura Borgelt, PharmD. "Like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It's important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects."

Fifteen of the patients reported marijuana use had no impact on their headaches, while three said they had more headaches.

The study looked at patients treated at Gedde Whole Health, a private medical practice in Colorado that utilizes medical marijuana for a variety of conditions. Inhaled marijuana appeared to be the favorite method for treating acute migraines, while edible cannabis, which takes longer to be absorbed into the body, helped prevent headaches.


Exactly how cannabis relieves migraines is not fully understood. Natural cannabinoid receptors in the brain, connective tissues, and the immune system appear to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. These cannabinoids also seem to affect neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

"We believe serotonin plays a role in migraine headaches, but we are still working to discover the exact role of cannabinoids in this condition," Borgelt said.

“We have had numerous patients finding results with migraines and the use of cannabis,” said Ellen Lenox Smith, a Pain News Network columnist who is a caregiver to medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island.

“We just had a woman out at the house a few days ago that was suffering will full body Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and when she took one hit on a vaporizer of day meds, you could actually see the forehead relax and had headache relief immediately. When it is right for you, the results are amazing.” 

A 2013 study on rodents published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that triptans – a drug widely prescribed to treat migraine – appear to activate cannabinoid receptors just as marijuana does.

A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Critical Pharmacology found that migraine patients possessed significantly lower levels of endogenous cannabinoids than healthy control subjects.