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Cannabis Can Relieve Headaches and Migraine Pain, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Nov 27, 2019    Last Updated: May 20, 2022
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Inhaled cannabis can reduce the painful effects of headaches and migraines, according to a new self-reported study.

Published in the Journal of Pain, the research found that inhaled cannabis reduced the severity of the headaches and migraines of participants by 49.6 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively.

CBD for headaches

More than 1,300 participants were asked to enter their painful symptoms into a medical cannabis app before and after using different cannabis strains and doses.

The researchers at Washington State University claim the study is the first to use big data from headache and migraine patients using cannabis in real time.

These data then went through analysis, which revealed that the men reported larger reductions in headaches than women, and that the use of cannabis concentrates was associated with larger reductions in headaches than flower.

Pain management is one of the most widely given reasons for accessing medical cannabis. And while the scientific literature on marijuana’s efficacy for treating pain is a little light, one of the most comprehensive reviews ever undertaken into the plant’s medical properties concluded in 2017 that there was enough evidence to support treating chronic pain.

One clinical trial conducted in 2012 also found that cannabis (in the synthetic form nabilone) was better than ibuprofen in alleviating headache, reducing pain intensity, and increasing quality of life.

“We were motivated to do this study because a substantial number of people say they use cannabis for headache and migraine, but surprisingly few studies had addressed the topic,” said Carrie Cuttler, a Washington State University assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the paper.

“We wanted to approach this in an ecologically valid way, which is to look at actual patients using whole plant cannabis to medicate in their own homes and environments,” she continued. “These are also very big data, so we can more appropriately and accurately generalize to the greater population of patients using cannabis to manage these conditions.”


But while the results of the study may appear conclusive on cannabis’ pain-reliving properties, the researchers did observe patients increasing their doses as the experiment went on, which indicates that they were possibly developing a tolerance to the drug.

No significant difference in pain reduction was seen among cannabis strains that were higher or lower in levels of THC and CBD, which could suggest that other cannabinoids and terpenes may play a central role in headache and migraine relief.

Aside from the drug, the authors also note that the study itself has its own limitations. No placebo group was allocated, conclusions were drawn from participants’ own accounts of their experiences with cannabis rather than objective testing, and the patient sample likely over-represented individuals who already find cannabis effective in reducing pain severity.

“I suspect there are some slight overestimates of effectiveness,” said Cuttler. “My hope is that this research will motivate researchers to take on the difficult work of conducting placebo-controlled trials. In the meantime, this at least gives medical cannabis patients and their doctors a little more information about what they might expect from using cannabis to manage these conditions.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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