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I’ve worked as a cannabis educator for a while, and there are some questions that I get pretty frequently. This post is in response to one of them.

QUESTION: I get terrible migraines from time to time. I have a prescription medication I can take for them, but it completely knocks me out, and I end up falling asleep for hours right after I take it. I’ve heard that cannabis can be used to treat migraines, but I’m not sure where to start. How can I use cannabis for my migraines?

First, let’s consider what we know about cannabis & migraines. A few studies that have looked at how cannabis can treat migraine symptoms have found that cannabis reduces the frequency and severity of migraine pain better than prescription meds, and with fewer side effects.

In one study, migraine sufferers who consumed 100mg of THC and 100mg of CBD each day for 3 months experienced about 55% less pain.  Their side effect profile was also better than people on prescription meds, with participants reporting fewer stomach aches, muscle pains, and incidences of colitis. The most significant side-effect reported was drowsiness and difficulty concentrating.

Cannabis can help treat the causes of migraines

Researchers have noticed that the brain’s serotonin levels increase dramatically right before an attack, and then fall to below-normal levels afterward.  One explanation for this is that migraines might be triggered by an over-stimulation of brain cells, which quickly increases the electrical signaling in the brain.  This is then immediately followed by an electrical brain wave which slows the cells’ signals back down.  Some researchers think that this rapid change causes the blood vessels that surround the brain to quickly expand and contract, increasing blood pressure and causing waves of intense pain. Cannabis helps to keep the blood vessels stable, preventing this pain response.

In fact, if cannabis is consumed when visual symptoms like auras start, it can completely prevent the onset of a migraine.  These symptoms may indicate that a serotonin release is imminent, so consuming cannabis at that point can help to prevent it.  A strain that is 50:50 THC:CBD is your best bet.

Inhaled cannabis will give the quickest relief, since it’s the fastest way to get cannabinoids directly to your brain, so vape a bowl, or smoke a joint if you prefer, when you first notice symptoms.  Applying a cannabis topical right on the base of your neck and temples can also help ease your tension and decrease pain.

Cannabis also fights nausea which can a symptom of a migraine, and it also helps as a sleep aid—a lack of sleep can be both a trigger for and a symptom of a migraine.

What about using cannabis as a lifestyle tool to help prevent migraines?

Juicing raw cannabis provides a variety of cannabinoid acids, which have anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory benefits, and are useful for migraine prevention. You can also consume cannabis oil or take a daily microdose of an edible like a gummy to use for prevention. Just keep in mind that it’s difficult to predict the timing of an edible, so they’re not the best option to treat sudden onset migraine pain.