It seems like every day brings a new discovery regarding the ways that cannabis can be used to treat various aches and ailments. Earlier this week, for instance, a new study revealed that vaping marijuana provides effective relief from chronic pain in sufferers of sickle cell disease[i]. At the same time, a separate group of researchers published a paper that provides new insights into which varieties of cannabis are most effective at treating headaches and migraines.
Appearing in the Journal of Integrative Medicine[ii], the study used data collected by a medical cannabis app called the Releaf Application in order to discern the efficacy of marijuana at relieving both regular headaches and more severe migraines. Users of the app recorded details of their attempts to treat symptoms using cannabis, providing information on primary cannabinoid content and route of administration.
Results showed that cannabis was pretty effective across the boards, and provided symptom relief in 94 percent of the 1,910 recorded sessions. On average, the intensity of symptoms dropped by 3.3 points on a scale from zero to ten, although certain factors were found to significantly influence the degree of relief experienced by different individuals.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content was identified as the single biggest driver of symptom relief, with products containing over ten percent THC consistently providing greater pain reduction. Interestingly, this trend was found to be more pronounced in younger users, suggesting that the ability of THC to treat headaches and migraines decreases as a person gets older.
Even more intriguingly, cannabidiol (CBD) was inversely correlated with symptom reduction, meaning that the more CBD a product contains, the less relief it provides from headaches and migraines. Once again, this trend was found to be age dependent, with younger people benefitting the most from cannabis containing zero percent CBD.
Indica varieties were also more effective at treating headaches and migraines than either Sativa or hybrid varieties, although this trend was most pronounced among females and among younger users.
Finally, the researchers noted that smoking a joint tends to relieve pain more effectively than vaping, while smoking a pipe was found to be the least appropriate means of consuming weed for the treatment of headaches and migraines.
The study authors aren’t entirely sure why they saw these results, although they suggest that high-THC cannabis may help to treat pain by acting on dopamine levels. Headaches and migraines can be caused by an overproduction of dopamine in the brain, and migraine medications often work by lowering the activity of dopamine neurons.
Previous research has indicated that low levels of THC stimulate the production of dopamine, whereas higher levels of THC block the release of dopamine, which could explain why cannabis containing more than ten percent THC provides the most effective headache and migraine relief[iii].
Whatever the mechanism behind marijuana’s ability to kick headaches into touch, it’s good to know that there’s a natural remedy for a pretty common ailment.
[i] Abrams DI, Couey P, Dixit N, Sagi V, Hagar W, Vichinsky E, Kelly ME, Connett JE, Gupta K. Effect of Inhaled Cannabis for Pain in Adults With Sickle Cell Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open. 2020 Jul 1;3(7):e2010874-. – https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/article-abstract/2768349
[ii] Stith SS, Diviant JP, Brockelman F, Keeling K, Hall B, Lucern S, Vigil JM. Alleviative effects of Cannabis flower on migraine and headache. Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2020 Jul 18. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2095496420300741
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