Migraine is a severe headache that lasts for hours or days, often accompanied by disturbance of vision and nausea and vomiting. The attacks usually re-occur and can be brought on by stress, certain types of food, bright lights, loud noise and even strong smells. About 20 % of the population has experienced a migraine attack and women are more likely to experience them. A person’s first attack usually happens before age 20, and rarely after age 50.
Drugs can either be used to prevent long-term recurrence, to cut short attacks, or for pain relief once an attack has started. 10-20 % of sufferers get no relief from these drugs and many more get incomplete relief or suffer serious side effects.
Cannabis was highly regarded as a treatment for migraine in the 19th century. Dr J.B. Mattison wrote in 1891 that the treating migraine was the most important use of cannabis. Reviewing his own and earlier physicians’ experiences, he concluded that cannabis not only blocks the pain, but prevents attacks. In 1913 William Osler expressed his agreement, saying that cannabis was probably the most satisfactory remedy for migraine. Yet there is no mention of the effect of cannabis on migraine in 20th century medical literature.
Individuals have experimented with cannabis however. They report that smoking a little amount of cannabis just as the early-warning signs of an attack (such as flickering vision) appear will prevent the attack from continuing. This may just be another analgesic effect of cannabis (combined with its anti-nausea effect), or it may be actually effecting the unknown biochemistry of migraine in some manner.
In these accounts patients testify that cannabis relieves migraines. The first testimony was published in The Forbidden Medicine, the second was a letter to ACT from a UKCIA member, after finding her address on this web site. The testimony of miller is particulary revealing because all the women in her family suffer from migraine. Carol has been controlling her migraines for 18 years with cannabis.
UKCIA member Terwur suffers from classical migraine. In this account he explains that cannabis aborts his attacks, without the side-effect of getting “stoned”.
The effect of cannabis on migraine could be an analgesic or anti-emetic effect – the evidence for these has been discussed elsewhere. But there may be a specific effect on migraine. Migraine attacks may be related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. In 1985 Volfe et al. reported that THC inhibited the release of serotonin from the blood of migraine sufferers during an attack (but not at other times). This could be a clue to future research, which is obviously needed.
Mattison J.B. (1891) Cannabis indica as an anodyne and hypnotic. St Louis Medical Surgical Journal 61: 266
Osler W. (1913) The priciples and practice of medicine 8th ed. (New York: Appleton) p1089
Volfe Z., Dvilansky A. and Nathan I. (1985) Cannabinoids block release of serotonin from platelets induced by plasma from migraine patients. International Journal of Clinical and Pharmacological Research 5: 243-246.