Marijuana research has proven victorious again. A study has revealed that the active compounds in cannabis work better at reducing the frequency of acute migraine pain than traditional pharmaceutical migraine medication. There are also fewer side effects.  

The study followed 127 participants, all of whom suffered from chronic migraine headaches and or cluster headaches, which are severe headaches that occur on one side of the head, often located around an eye.  Pain from migraine headaches usually affects both sides of the head and is often accompanied by sensitivity to light as well as nauseousness.

Study participants were given cannabis-based medication which was a combination of the two active compounds in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive compound that produces a high; CBD doesn’t provide a high, but studies have shown that it provides therapeutic benefits, which include the relief of seizures in patients suffering with Epilepsy.

The study had two phases. During the first part, sufferers of chronic, acute migraines were given a variety of different doses of the THC-CBD drug. The data indicated that those who received a 200mg dose each day for three months reported significantly less pain--about 55 percent less. Lower doses did not provide the same level of pain relief.

The second phase of the study included subjects who suffered from chronic migraines, as well as those suffering from cluster headaches. Participants in the migraine group were given either the THC-CBD drug or 25 milligrams of amitriptyline, an antidepressant which is sometimes used to treat migraines. The cluster headache sufferers were given either the THC-CBD drug or 80 milligrams of verapamil, which is a calcium channel blocker medication that is often prescribed for cluster headaches.

The results from this phase showed that the THC-CBD combination was slightly better at reducing the frequency of migraine attacks than the commonly prescribed drug (40.4 % versus 40.1%, respectively). And the THC-CBD drug was drastically more effective at reducing migraine pain, alleviating it by 43.5%.

The traditionally prescribed medication was also effective at reducing the severity of pain in cluster headache sufferers, but only if they had a history of migraines from childhood on.

The profile for side effects was generally more favorable for the THC-CBD combo than that for the traditional medication. 

Subjects who took the THC-CBD reported less stomach aches and less muscle pain, as well as fewer occurrences colitis than the subjects who took the prescription medication.  The downside was that those taking THC-CBD reported having some drowsiness and trouble with concentration.

This research confirms earlier studies which show that medical cannabis is effective at reducing how frequently migraines occur, as well as adding to a plethora of study data which indicates that cannabis compounds are a safer alternative to traditional pharmaceutical pain medication. 

There are a number of clinical trials currently going on whose mission is to determine whether drugs made from cannabis compounds could replace opioids as a painkiller, which would optimally minimize the problem of opioid addiction. Research in this area will take some time, but it’s encouraging to see the evidence pointing to how effective the compounds can be in alleviating pain, while being much less harmful than opioids.  With all of the potential therapeutic benefits and the possibility of a reduction in opioid addiction, it is crucial that this research continues. 

These study findings were reported at the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology, held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.