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Marijuana and CBD Oil

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Reviewed March 2021

Some people use marijuana, or forms of the cannabis plant such as CBD oil, to treat migraine. Cannabis has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy for a number of conditions. While there are not enough high quality studies to support the use of marijuana for migraine, there is anecdotal (based on people’s experiences) and preliminary evidence that cannabis has been helpful for those with migraine. More trials are needed before marijuana can be considered a standard treatment for migraine.1

What is marijuana and is it legal?

Traditionally, the smoking form of cannabis has been called marijuana. Today, some oral forms are also called marijuana. Topical forms that you rub into your skin are more often known as CBD oil as CBD is the active ingredient.1,2

Cannabis for recreational and medicinal use is illegal under federal law. However, several states allow medical marijuana, and a few states have legalized recreational use. Each individual should talk with their doctor and learn the laws of the state they live in before using medical marijuana.

What are the differences between CBD and THC?

While there are over 400 different compounds (called cannabinoids) in the cannabis plant, the two most often studied are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).2

THC is thought to reduce nausea and pain, and increase appetite. It may also produce psychological effects like euphoria, anxiety, and altered sensory perception, which can make users feel “high” or intoxicated. CBD (cannabidiol) does not cause intoxication. It does produce sedative effects that can help reduce pain, convulsions, nausea, and inflammation. There are a variety of preparations with varying doses of CBD and THC.

More studies are needed to decide if oral, inhaled, or topical forms of marijuana work best for which type of migraine and at what doses.1

How does medical marijuana work in the body?

Researchers have discovered that the human body has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). “Endo” means internal or within the body. The ECS is distributed throughout the body. It plays a part in regulating many functions, including pain, mood, appetite, and the movement of the gastrointestinal system. The ECS includes the cannabinoids the body produces, the receptors on which they act, and the enzymes that are involved.3

Studies on medical marijuana and migraine

Research on marijuana has been limited, due to the federal regulations and lack of funding. However, there have been recent studies on the use of cannabis or medical marijuana in people with migraine.

Migraine attacks decreasing from medical marijuana

In 2016, a study reviewed past data from 121 adults with migraine who were recommended either a migraine preventive drug or medical marijuana by their doctor. The study found that migraine attacks decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 a month with the use of medical marijuana. The types of marijuana used varied. Plus, many patients used more than one form and used it daily as a prevention strategy. Inhaled forms of marijuana were used most often as an acute strategy for migraine attacks and were reported to help ease symptoms.2

The challenges of this study are that the types of doses of marijuana varied. This makes it impossible to know which form or dose worked best as a preventive or acute treatment. However, the study offers interesting data for future studies.

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Cannabis for prevention and acute treatment of migraine

In 2017, Italian researchers provided more evidence on the use of cannabis for both prevention and acute treatment of migraine. The researchers first studied the proper dose of cannabis. A group of 48 people with chronic migraine were given oral doses with different levels of THC and CBD. Investigators found that at an oral dose of 200 mg, acute pain dropped by 55 percent. In phase 2 of the research, 79 people living with chronic migraine were given either a daily dose of marijuana or amitriptyline (a common antidepressant used as a treatment for migraine). The participants were also able to use 200 mg of marijuana for acute attacks.4

After 3 months, those who received marijuana had a 40.4 percent reduction in migraine attacks compared to 40.1 percent of those who received the antidepressant. Researchers also found that the medical marijuana used for acute treatment reduced pain intensity by 43.5 percent. The most common side effects were drowsiness and difficulty concentrating. In addition, many participants reported less stomach aches and muscle and joint pain.4

Another study in Europe found that 10.2 percent of people with migraine self-medicated with marijuana. Results were varied, with some people reporting that low doses helped relieve migraine while higher doses triggered headaches.3

Side effects and other precautions

Marijuana is not approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Because marijuana is not tightly regulated the way approved drugs are, it is difficult to list side effects because its strength and purity may vary with each use.

The long-term negative effects of medical marijuana are not known. Few studies have been conducted on the long-term safety of cannabis, and those that have been completed are often conflicting or are of poor quality.1

Short-term side effects of medical marijuana are better understood and include:

  • Temporary impaired short-term memory and concentration
  • Increased in anxiety or paranoia
  • Possible physical or psychological dependence or addiction
  • Impaired motor skills like driving

These are not all the possible side effects of marijuana. Patients should talk to their doctor about what to expect with treatment with marijuana.

Who should not take marijuana?

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding, you must consult your doctor before taking any supplement. It is well-known that smoking endangers the health of developing babies and should be avoided by pregnant women. The effects of marijuana have been studied in pregnant or breastfeeding women, and it is not recommended to take marijuana as it can pose a danger to the unborn child.6

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As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your health care provider and should let them know of any other prescriptions, OTCs, and herbals you are taking to ensure there are no interactions.

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