Cannabis For Migraines vs Traditional Medications

Can cannabis help migraines? Here's the science behind why medical marijuana relieves headaches and the differences between MMJ vs Traditional Migraine Meds

Migraines and Medical Marijuana

History of MMJ as a Treatment for Migraine Headaches

Migraines and medical marijuana have been around for centuries, and historically they made a lovely pair.

Official records before 1874 and right up until the start of prohibition show, using cannabis for migraine headaches was common. It was listed as medication in the pharmacopeia and had been used for thousands of years.

Cannabis Was a Common Until Prohibition

Once cannabis prohibition began in 1937, this treatment was no longer available in pharmacies.

Then in 1970, cannabis was “temporarily” listed as a Schedule I substance which completely banned scientific research.  President Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission to determine the safety of cannabis.

The Shafer Commission recommended cannabis be declassified. 

Richard Nixon tried to pressure the commission to present different results, but the commission refused.  Still, Nixon (and every president since) refused to remove the federal classification of cannabis.

No Medical Basis for Prohibition

There was NEVER a scientific or medical basis for cannabis prohibition. It was always (and still is today) political. 

Nixon’s political motivations are well documented. He can be heard on tape spouting hatred towards marijuana and the people he assumed used it (homosexuals, black people, Jewish people, and liberals).

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What is a Migraine?

A migraine is a severe headache often accompanied by a disturbance in vision (called an aura) and nausea & vomiting.


Facts About Migraines

  • 12% of Americans suffer from migraines.
    • More than 321 million people live in the US, so that’s an estimated more than 38.5 million Americans suffering from this disease.
  • Migraines are the 7th most disabling disease in the world and the leading cause of disability among all neurological disorders.
  • Estimates say migraine sufferers spend 5.3% of their life with a headache.
  • There’s no cure for migraines.
  • Migraines are notoriously difficult to treat.


The Science of Headaches & Cannabis

Rediscovery of Cannabis as a Migraine Treatment

Fortunately, science did not forget the history of cannabis as a migraine treatment. In 1992 the endocannabinoid system was discovered and eventually, research suggested migraine headaches (as well as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and numerous other diagnoses) could be related to a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.

At the time, the theory sounded bonkers, but new research and anecdotal evidence now offer a deeper understanding of the endocannabinoid system, today this theory seems very plausible.

An unbalanced endocannabinoid system can impact every area of our body.

Clinical Study Shows Cannabis Reduces Migraines 

Research is limited, but a 2016 clinical study, published in Pharmacotherapy Productions, shows medical marijuana can reduce the frequency of migraines.

The study states, “Migraine headache frequency decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month (p<0.0001) with the use of medical marijuana.”

An overwhelming number of study participants (85%) experienced symptom relief. Marijuana can prevent migraines and stop migraines that have already begun.

Can cannabis help migraines? Here's the science behind why medical marijuana relieves headaches and the differences between MMJ vs Traditional Migraine Meds

Why Marijuana Relieves Migraines

A commonly proposed theory is that migraines (and many other disorders) are caused by an endocannabinoid imbalance.

If this is valid, introducing cannabis may help regulate the endocannabinoid system, eliminating the cause of the disorder, and reducing occurrences. 

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Cannabis Offers Migraine Symptom Control

Migraines symptoms include severe pain and cannabis is a powerful pain reliever.  Besides the analgesic qualities, marijuana fights nausea and vomiting, another common feature of migraine headache disorders.

Cannabis is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can help ease chronic inflammation which may trigger migraine headaches. Cannabis also battles the harmful effects of stress, which contribute to this condition.


Pros of Using Cannabis for Migraines

  • The dose is easy to control to attain adequate relief
  • Smoking or vaporization offers immediate relief
  • Fewer long-term side effects than pharmaceuticals
  • Fewer potential drug interactions
  • All-natural, holistic medication
  • Reduced risk of addiction compared to opiates

Cannabis vs Traditional Migraine Medication

Cannabis for migraines offers significantly fewer side effects (and far less dangerous side-effects) than traditional migraine medications.

Cannabis is not deadly. No one has ever died from a cannabis overdose.

Side-Effects of Cannabis

The side effects of cannabis are all dependent on the strain and dose of marijuana used. Side effects dissipate with routine use.

The tolerance of the user plays a large role in the experience. New users should start with lower doses of cannabis. It’s often recommended to start with vaping or smoking before trying edibles.

  • Sedation & Sleepiness (occurs with some strains or when consuming too much)
  • Appetite Changes (may increase or decrease depending on the strains)
  • Dry Mouth (occurs with most strains)
  • Red Eyes (intraocular pressure reduction, doesn’t occur in all patients, may be strain dependent)
  • Temporary Cognitive Alteration Including Short-Term Memory Loss (with some strains and higher doses)
  • Paranoia Anxiety (with some strains or often a sign of overconsumption)
  • *Addiction (approximately the same rates as alcohol )

Marijuana should be used with medical guidance by patients who have experienced psychosis or cardiac issues. Cannabis should not be used by patients with severe liver failure or patients experiencing an active psychotic episode.

Side-Effects of Traditional Migraines Medications

Side-Effects of NSAIDS

  • Deadly Overdose Risk
  • Dangerous Drug Interactions
  • Cardiac Side Effects
  • Kidney Damage
  • Liver Damage
  • Stroke
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach Pain
  • Stomach Ulcers
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the Ears
  • Bleeding

Side-Effects of Ergotamines

  • Highly Addictive (can’t be used more than 2 days in a row)
  • Deadly Overdose Risk
  • Dangerous Drug Interactions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle Pain
  • Weakness
  • Tingling in Extremities
  • Burning & Tingling in the Nose
  • Changes in Taste
  • Diarrhea
  • Rebound Headaches
  • Itching
  • Cardiac Side Effects
  • Birth Defects

Side-Effects of Triptans 

  • Deadly Overdose Risk
  • Dangerous Drug Interactions
  • Addictive
  • Peripheral Nerve Issues
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Chest and Throat Tightness
  • Cardiac Side Effects
  • Stroke
  • Headaches
  • Hot Flashes
  • Flushing
  • Changes in Temperature Perception
  • Dry Mouth
  • Chest Pain

Side-Effects of Opiates

  • Highly Addictive
  • DEADLY Overdose Risk
  • Dangerous Drug Interactions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal distension and bloating,
  • Constipation
  • Liver damage
  • Hypoxia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Cognitive Impairment

Where is Medical Marijuana Available for Migraines?

Medical marijuana is now available as a treatment for chronic pain from migraines!

Medical marijuana is legal in more than half the US, but not all states include migraine headaches as a qualifying condition. 

Here’s a list of where you can get medical marijuana for debilitating migraines.

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas (not yet operational)
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Deleware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota (not operational yet)
  • Ohio (not operational yet)
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania 
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washinton DC
  • West Virginia (not operational yet)

In the healthy brain, during times of stress, kappa opioid receptors bind dynorphin, a natural opiate. This stops feelings dysphoria. PTSD patients differ and marijuana might help.

How to Use Marijuana for Migraines

Experts often recommend starting with a vaporizer or smoking, before moving to edibles.

The body processes cannabinoids differently depending on how it is consumed. Eating cannabis often produces stronger effects than smoking it.

Always start with small doses and increase your doses gradually. Overconsumption can cause increased anxiety and panic attacks.

pretty pot pictures
Pictures of Marijuana and Weeds. Follow me on Instagram: @jessiegill.marijuanamommy

Choosing Cannabis Strains for Migraines

It’s difficult to predict how an individual will react to a strain. A specific strain can make me feel terrible, but it might make you feel great.

If a particular strain does not improve your symptoms, try another one. The budtender at your local medical marijuana dispensary will be able to help guide you.

Leafly provides a strain database that can help familiarize you with different effects of various strains.

Popular Cannabis Strains for Migraines

  • Bubba Kush
  • Northern Lights
  • Girl Scout Cookies
  • Sour Diesel
  • Jack Herer
  • Cannatonic
  • Harlequin



Adding cannabis can reduce or eliminate the need for traditional migraine medications. Clinical studies show medical marijuana can decrease the frequency of migraine headaches. Medical marijuana also reduces many of the additional symptoms. MMJ may prevent headaches and can stop them after they start. Best of all, cannabis is a natural migraine treatment with fewer side-effects and is significantly safer than many traditional migraine headache medicines currently available.

Written by Jessie Gill

Jessie Gill, RN is a cannabis nurse with a background in holistic health and hospice. After suffering a spinal injury, she reluctantly became a medical marijuana patient then quickly transitioned into an advocate. Her site, combines science with personal insight to educate about medical marijuana. She’s been featured on Viceland and bylines include GoodHousekeeping, Cosmopolitan, MSN, and more.

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