How Cannabis Can Help with Migraines

Migraines are more than just headaches—they're debilitating events that can dramatically impact one's quality of life. Characterized by severe pain, nausea, and heightened sensitivity to light and sound, migraines affect approximately 15% of the global population. 

In recent years, there has been growing interest in alternative treatments, due to the fact that traditional treatments used to treat them often involve prescription medications, which can come with a host of undesirable side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and potential dependency issues. Cannabis, known for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, has emerged as a promising remedy for migraine sufferers. And this shift towards cannabis is not just based on anecdotal evidence; several recent studies have highlighted its efficacy in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.

This blog delves into how cannabis can be an effective solution for managing migraines, drawing on the latest research and expert opinions. By exploring the mechanisms through which cannabis alleviates migraine symptoms and comparing it to traditional treatments, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of why cannabis is becoming a preferred option for many migraine sufferers.

Understanding Migraines

symptoms of migraine

Migraines are a complex and often misunderstood neurological disorder that goes beyond the typical headache. They are characterized by intense, throbbing pain usually on one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. These symptoms can last for hours or even days, making it nearly impossible for sufferers to carry out daily activities.

Prevalence and Impact

Migraines are incredibly common, affecting approximately 15% of the global population. In the United States alone, more than 37 million people suffer from migraines, with around 3 million experiencing chronic migraines, defined as having 15 or more headache days per month​. The debilitating nature of migraines significantly impacts the quality of life, productivity, and overall well-being of those affected.

Symptoms and Triggers

The symptoms of migraines can vary widely but often include:

  • Severe, throbbing headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia)
  • Visual disturbances (aura), such as flashing lights or blind spots

Migraine attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors, including hormonal changes (particularly in women), certain foods and drinks, stress, lack of sleep, and sensory stimuli like bright lights or loud noises​​.

Conventional Treatments and Their Limitations

Traditionally, migraines are treated with a range of pharmaceutical medications. These include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen.
  • Triptans: Prescription medications that help to constrict blood vessels and block pain pathways in the brain, such as sumatriptan and rizatriptan.
  • Ergotamines: Medications that are often used for migraines that last more than 48 hours.
  • Preventive medications: Including beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants, which are taken regularly to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines​.

However, these treatments often come with significant side effects. Common issues include drowsiness, dizziness, muscle weakness, weight gain, and, in some cases, addiction. Additionally, many people do not find complete relief from these medications, leading to a persistent search for more effective and safer alternatives​​.

Understanding these aspects of migraines sets the stage for exploring how cannabis can offer a promising alternative to conventional treatments, potentially alleviating symptoms with fewer side effects and improving the quality of life for migraine sufferers.

Cannabis as an Alternative Treatment

using cannabis for a migraine

With the limitations of traditional migraine treatments becoming more apparent, many sufferers are turning to cannabis for relief. The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, particularly for pain management, has a long history and is gaining renewed attention due to recent scientific studies and anecdotal evidence.

Historical Context

Cannabis has been used for centuries to treat headaches and migraines. In the 19th century, it was commonly prescribed by physicians in the United States and England for its analgesic properties. Notably, Sir William Osler, often considered the father of modern medicine, endorsed cannabis as "probably the most satisfactory remedy" for migraines in his 1915 writings​​. This historical context sets the foundation for the resurgence of cannabis as a viable treatment option in contemporary medicine.

Recent Studies Supporting Cannabis Use

Yale University Study (March 2024)

Description: This study surveyed 1,373 patients from a tertiary headache clinic, focusing on their cannabis usage and its effects on migraine symptoms.

Findings: A significant majority reported that cannabis either improved their symptoms or reduced the frequency of their migraines. Importantly, 63% of respondents indicated that cannabis helped them decrease or eliminate their prescription medications for migraines​​.

Implication: This large-scale study underscores the potential of cannabis to replace conventional migraine medications without severe side effects.

University of California, San Diego Study (February 2024)

Description: Researchers conducted a clinical trial involving 92 patients who suffered from persistent migraines, using vaporized cannabis containing both THC and CBD.

Findings: The study revealed that vaporized cannabis with a balanced THC and CBD content was significantly more effective than a placebo in providing relief from migraine pain, photophobia, and sound sensitivity. Moreover, no adverse side effects were reported during the trial​.

Implication: The combination of THC and CBD in vaporized form appears particularly effective in managing migraines, offering a safer alternative to traditional medications.

Journal of Pain Study (2020)

Description: This study involved 1,300 participants who rated their pain levels before and after using cannabis.

Findings: Participants reported a 47.3% decrease in headache severity and a 49.6% reduction in migraine pain after using cannabis. These results were significantly better than those typically achieved with conventional painkillers​​.

Implication: Smoking cannabis can substantially reduce migraine pain, often outperforming traditional pain relief methods.

Mechanisms of Action

Cannabis is effective for migraines due to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a crucial role in pain regulation. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind to endocannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, helping to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation​​. The "entourage effect," where different cannabinoids and terpenes work synergistically, enhances these therapeutic benefits.

Cannabis also affects various neurological pathways involved in pain perception. Studies suggest that cannabinoids can modulate pain signals in the brainstem and influence the transmission of pain, which are key factors in the onset and experience of migraines​​.

By understanding these mechanisms, it's clear why cannabis is emerging as a promising alternative for migraine treatment, offering a combination of efficacy and safety that many traditional medications lack. This growing body of evidence supports the need for further research and broader acceptance of cannabis in medical practice.

Benefits of Cannabis Over Traditional Medications

cannabis vs traditional medication

As more migraine sufferers explore cannabis as an alternative treatment, the benefits of this natural remedy over traditional pharmaceuticals are becoming increasingly evident. Cannabis offers several advantages that make it an attractive option for those seeking effective and safer relief from migraine symptoms.

Fewer Side Effects

One of the most significant benefits of cannabis compared to traditional migraine medications is the reduced risk of side effects. Prescription drugs for migraines, such as triptans and beta-blockers, often come with a host of adverse effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, muscle weakness, weight gain, and even addiction. In contrast, studies have shown that cannabis is well-tolerated by most patients, with fewer and less severe side effects. For instance, in the University of California, San Diego study, participants did not report any adverse effects from using vaporized cannabis​ ​.

Reduced Dependency and Lower Risk of Addiction

Many conventional migraine treatments carry a risk of dependency and addiction. Opioid-based medications, while effective in the short term, can lead to significant health issues when used long-term​. Cannabis, however, has a lower potential for addiction compared to these medications. Although some users may develop a tolerance over time, the risk of serious addiction is considerably lower​​.

Versatility in Consumption Methods

Cannabis offers various methods of consumption, providing flexibility for patients based on their preferences and needs. Fast-acting methods such as smoking or vaping can provide immediate relief from acute migraine symptoms. These methods allow cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream quickly, bypassing the digestive system and offering prompt relief​​. For those who prefer not to smoke, alternatives like tinctures and sublingual sprays are available, which also offer rapid onset of effects. Edibles, while slower to take effect, provide a longer-lasting relief and can be a suitable option for managing chronic migraine symptoms.

Personalized Dosage and Treatment

Cannabis allows for more personalized treatment plans. Unlike standardized pharmaceutical doses, cannabis dosage can be adjusted to meet individual needs and tolerance levels. Starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it allows patients to find the optimal amount that provides relief without unwanted side effects. This flexibility is particularly beneficial given the variable nature of migraines and individual responses to treatment​.

Comprehensive Symptom Relief

Cannabis is effective not only in reducing the pain associated with migraines but also in alleviating other related symptoms. The anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of cannabinoids help reduce the overall severity of migraine attacks. Additionally, cannabis can mitigate nausea and vomiting, which are common accompaniments of severe migraines, making it a more comprehensive treatment option​.

By considering these factors, you can effectively incorporate cannabis into your migraine management plan, potentially improving your quality of life with fewer side effects and greater overall relief; and by understanding how cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, we can appreciate why cannabis is becoming a preferred option for many.

Practical Tips for Using Cannabis for Migraines

how does cannabis help migraines

As cannabis becomes an increasingly popular option for managing migraines, it’s important to use it effectively and safely. Here are some practical tips to help you get started:

Consult with a Healthcare Provider

Before starting any new treatment, especially cannabis, it’s essential to discuss it with your healthcare provider. They can provide personalized advice, help monitor your progress, and ensure that cannabis does not interact adversely with any other medications you might be taking.

Start Low and Go Slow

The adage "start low and go slow" is particularly relevant when beginning cannabis treatment for migraines. Start with a low dose to see how your body reacts, and gradually increase the dose until you find the amount that provides relief without adverse effects. This approach helps in minimizing potential side effects and finding the most effective dose.

Choose the Right Strains

Different cannabis strains have varying effects, and some are more effective for migraine relief than others. Strains with a balanced THC and CBD content are often recommended for migraines due to their combined analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Some strains known for their efficacy in treating migraines include:

  • Girl Scout Cookies: Known for its powerful pain-relieving effects.
  • Sour Diesel: Often used for its ability to provide quick relief.
  • Blue Dream: Popular for its balanced effects and pain relief.
  • Lemon Kush: Known for its uplifting and pain-relieving properties​​.

Select the Appropriate Consumption Method

The method of consumption can significantly impact the effectiveness of cannabis for migraine relief. Fast-acting methods are ideal for acute migraine attacks:

  • Smoking or Vaping: These methods provide rapid relief as cannabinoids quickly enter the bloodstream through the lungs. Dry herb vaporizers, like our iven, are even able to deliver the therapeutic effects of cannabis quickly and without combustion.
  • Tinctures: Taken sublingually (under the tongue), tinctures can offer fast relief without the need to inhale smoke or vapor.
  • Edibles: While they take longer to take effect, edibles provide longer-lasting relief and can be useful for managing chronic symptoms. However, they are not ideal for immediate relief due to the delayed onset.

Monitor Your Symptoms

Keeping a detailed diary of your migraine attacks and cannabis usage can help you understand what works best for you. Note the strain, dosage, method of consumption, and effects each time you use cannabis. This information can help you and your healthcare provider make informed adjustments to your treatment plan.

Comprehensive Symptom Relief

Cannabis not only helps in reducing migraine pain but also alleviates other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties provide a comprehensive treatment option, making it more effective than some traditional medications that only target specific symptoms​​.

So, if you're considering using cannabis to manage your migraines, these practical tips can help you get started effectively and safely. By following these guidelines, you can optimize your treatment plan and potentially improve your quality of life with fewer side effects and greater overall relief.


Migraines can severely impact the quality of life, but emerging research shows that cannabis offers a promising alternative for relief. Studies from Yale University and the University of California, San Diego highlight cannabis's ability to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, providing comprehensive symptom relief without the adverse effects commonly associated with pharmaceutical treatments​​. As more research supports its efficacy, cannabis is becoming an increasingly viable option for those seeking to improve their quality of life while managing migraines​​.