Most of us suffer from either occasional or frequent headaches, most of those are "tension" or exhaustion type headaches, and while they can be nasty, real migraines, which far fewer people suffer from, can be seriously disabling. Migraines can happen as often as daily or as rarely as once or twice a year, and attacks, which literally feel like someone is taking tongs and crimping your brain, can last anywhere from three to four hours to three to four days. As well, migrains can be "common" - meaning there is no aura - or "classical" meaning there is.
Medically, migraines are vascular headaches. Spasms and narrowing of the blood vessels leading to the brain produces the migraine "syndrome" and reduced blood flow to the brain causes lower oxygen levels, which then triggers the release of serotonin (a brain chemical) and the dilation of blood vessels outside the brain, which can become congested. Migraines can either involve the whole head and neck region or they can be focused on just one region.
Current medicine isn't entirely certain of the origin of migraines, but studies are looking at:
- A possible genetic basis, since migraines tend to run in families.
- The role of food or allergens in triggering migraines.
- Possible environmental causes, including temperature and barometric pressure changes.
- The role of nicotine and/or caffeine in prompting a migraine.
- The fact that since most (but not all) migraine sufferers are women may indicate hormonal changes as a trigger.
When you're suffering from a migraine, a classic attack is preceded by an "aura" about half an hour before your head starts to hurt. For some people these auras include smelling a metallic odor and seeing flashes of light in your peripheral vision, but sometimes an aura can also be subtle, like an unexplained cranky mood, or over-sensitivity to sound. When the headache comes it's intense, and may cause vomiting, as well as difficulties with driving, walking, or talking.
Current treatment involves finding a cool dark place to wait it out, and taking a migraine formula analgesic (usually a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine), avoid noise, and put a cool compress on your head, but there are also a host of prescription drugs which are as mild as Midrin (a cocktail that is stronger than Excedrin) or as strong is Imitrex, which can leave you feeling like a zombie. All of them essentially dilate blood vessels, and have pain relievers in them, but none of them work when there's a lot of vomiting and you can't keep anything down.
Knowing all of this, is it any wonder that medical marijuana offers an excellent option for migraine treatment? Consider that cannabis preparations have been prescribed for migraines in both England and America during the 19th century, where it was the primary option for treating "sick headache." Today, there available tinctures are absorbed sublingually (under the tongue) and work within minutes, and inhaling marijuana smoke or using a nebulizer can work even more rapidly. Even better, all three of those methods of absorption can be used even when vomiting is occurring, because they work independently of the GI tract.
The cannabinoids present in marijuana act both as an anti-inflammatory (reducing swelling) and analgesic (pain reliever) as well as providing anti-emetic (anti-nausea) properties. As well, cannabis helps alleviate the muscle cramps of the neck and shoulders that come with migraines.
Some migraines are triggered by anxiety, and patients with that trigger should be cautious when using marijuana because in some cases in aggravates anxiety symptoms.
The dose of marijuana required is patient dependent, but usually 3-4 drops of tincture or less than a gram of bud will provide relief for up to six hours. Marijuana should only be used for migraine treatment under a physician's care, and after a complete physical, including CT scans, have ruled out any other causes for severe headaches. It works best when combined with a migraine prevention program and a place to spend attacks that restricts light and sound.