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This New Study Will Test The Effects of Cannabis on Migraines

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 25, 2021   
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Scientists at UC San Diego Health have begun the first known randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to investigate whether cannabis can effectively treat acute migraines.

Aches and pains

In a press release on Wednesday, May 19, the research team from the University of California, San Diego announced that 20 or so participants are currently enrolled in the trial.

The goal is to enroll a total of 90 participants who live with migraines. These subjects will be randomly assigned one of four different treatments: THC, CBD, a combination of the two, and a placebo – all of which will be administered via a vaporizer.

“Vaporized cannabis may be more effective for those patients who have nausea or gastrointestinal issues with their migraines,” Nathaniel Schuster, an investigator at the UC San Diego Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research and head of the trial, said in a statement.

To qualify for the trial, participants must experience migraines at least every month, must be aged between 21 and 65, and must not be a regular cannabis or opioid user consumer.

“When Dr Schuster introduced the trial to me, I decided I wanted to participate. I was at a point where I was willing to try anything that could help manage my migraines,” Allison Knigge, one of the trial’s current participants, said in a statement.

While there are numerous FDA-approved treatments for migraines available in the US, patients like Knigge can still find them lacking. As such, many patients have turned to other products, such as cannabis, to treat their migraines.

“Many patients who suffer from migraines have experienced them for many years but have never discussed them with their physicians. They are, rather, self-treating with various treatments, such as cannabis,” said Schuster.

“Right now, when patients ask us if cannabis works for migraines, we do not have evidence-based data to answer that question,” he adds.

Schuster and his team hope that their research projects will help determine just how effective cannabis can be for treating migraines. Future studies, he says, will even compare different doses of cannabinoids.

Migraines and cannabis

Previous research has found that inhaled cannabis can reduce the painful effects of headaches and migraines. Published in the Journal of Pain in 2019, one study found that inhaled cannabis reduced the severity of patients’ headaches and migraines by 49.6 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively.

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

However, more recent research has found that migraine sufferers who use cannabis for pain relief may be at higher odds of developing “rebound” headaches. After looking at the medical records of 368 patients living with a diagnosed chronic migraine for over a year – 150 of whom reported using cannabis – the researchers in that study recorded the prevalence of medication overuse headaches (MOHs) in each group, along with other important information on migraine frequency and any concurrent medications.

They found that people using cannabis were six times more likely to have a MOH than those who did not use cannabis. In total, 212 of the 368-person study sample reported experiencing MOHs.


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