Medicinal Cannabis and Migraines

Migraines are extremely disruptive to a person’s day to day life and level of productivity. As a result, the World Health Organization ranked it as one of  the top disabilities in Canada.1 To date, 2.7 million people in Canada are diagnosed with migraines.2  Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba have the highest incidence rate of migraines and affect people ages 30-40 predominantly.2    

What is a Migraine?

Migraines are defined as moderate to severe headache pain, categorized as chronic or episodic.  It is normally unilateral (one-sided) throbbing that lasts 4-72 hours. Symptoms associated with a migraine include:3

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the form of pulsating or throbbing
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Sensitivity to sounds
  • Lightheadedness

The cause of migraines are unknown, however, there is a strong understanding that it may be linked to environmental factors or genetics.3 In addition, causes/triggers of migraines could vary from patient to patient but some triggers frequently associated are:3

  • Food/food additives (such as processed foods)
  • Stress
  • Change in sleeping pattern
  • Physical factors
  • Medications

Impact of Migraines

Migraines are heavily debilitating, having a potential to affect a person’s quality of life or even productivity within their work or school.  A study done within the United States highlighted that 26% of patients with migraines affected their ability to participate in certain daily activities.4 For example, patients in a study claimed that driving was a concern.4 Specifically, about 53% of patients reported that the burden of their migraine halted their ability to drive.4 

A variety of studies have proven that the burden of a migraine affected the employee’s productivity at work. Approximately 8.2 hours is the amount of work time lost per attack and 88 hours lost within a whole year.5 On estimate, approximately 4 workdays per year is lost in work productivity as a result of a person’s migraine.5 

Current Treatment

 When patients are suffering from a migraine, they typically use analgesics such as acetaminophen, aspirin (ASA) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.6 These options are deemed useful for mild to moderate symptoms.  For patients suffering from an acute migraine that is more severe, triptans are more efficatious.6 A few triptans commonly used are eletriptan, frovatriptan, and naratriptan.  When administering the following medications, peak relief time is within 1-2 hours.6

Analgesics NSAIDs Triptans
Aspirin (ASA) Advil (ibuprofen) Eletriptan
Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Naproxen sodium Frovatriptan
    Naratriptan

Arising Treatment

There have been reports and strong interest concerning cannabis as an aid for patients suffering from migraines.  Based on a variety of studies, this treatment regimen appears to positively affect many patients suffering from headache/migraines, specifically, the number of monthly recurrences. 

In previous studies, the use of medicinal cannabis decreased a group of patient’s headaches from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month.8  To add, positive results were shown in 40% of patients using medicinal marijuana as a prophylactic measure.8  About 20% of patients had a decrease incidence of migraine headaches and 12% had their migraines improved.8 In these studies, the preferred route of administration was via inhalation compared to edibles.

Final Thoughts

Medicinal cannabis may be an option that has the potential to relieve a variety of symptoms a patient may have. However, the use of medical cannabis to treat migraine headaches requires more research and clinical studies. It is important to recognize the preliminary evidence supporting the use of cannabis in migraine patients but to also continue to gather evidence to support these claims.

References:

  1. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://canadiandisabilitybenefits.ca/types-of-disabilities/migraines/
  2. Pamela L, Ramage-Morin, Gilmour. Prevalence of migraine in the Canadian household population. Statistics Canada. 2014; 10-13. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-003-x/2014006/article/14033-eng.pdf?st=pemijd1G. June 2014. January 2019. January 11, 2019.
  3. (2018, May 31). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201
  4. Burton, W. N., Landy, S. H., Downs, K. E., & Runken, M. C. (2009). The impact of migraine and the effect of migraine treatment on workplace productivity in the United States and suggestions for future research. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 84(5), 436-45.
  5. Pamela L, Ramage-Morin, Gilmour. Prevalence of migraine in the Canadian household population. Statistics Canada. 2014; 10-13. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-003-x/2014006/article/14033-eng.pdf?st=pemijd1G. June 2014. January 2019. January 11 2019.
  6. I., Headache In: Compendium of Therapeutics for Minor Ailments. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Pharmacists Association. [Updated September 2018; Accessed January 11, 2019]. https://myrxtx.ca/search#.
  7. Lochte, B. C., Beletsky, A., Samuel, N. K., & Grant, I. (2017). The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 61-71. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0033
  8. Rhyne, D. N., Anderson, S. L., Gedde, M., & Borgelt, L. M. (2016, May). Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26749285

Learn more about Medical Cannabis.

Solace Health Network: Is a network of Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Patient Educators that help patients navigate medical cannabis. We have physical clinic locations and also offer telemedicine consultation services where patients can see a Health Care Practitioner from the convenience of their home. Our educators assist patients with education on the use of medical cannabis. There are no fees for patients for all of our services.