Can CANNABIS be used to treat migraines? First trial is underway

Can CANNABIS be used to treat migraines? First trial to test THC and CBD as potential treatments for acute headaches is underway

  • Migraines are a common condition that tend to start in early adulthood
  • A trial of 20 participants is underway at the University of California
  • Participants will receive either THC, CBD, a combination of the two or a placebo

While one in five women and one in five men suffer from migraines, current treatments including painkillers and anti-sickness tablets remain ineffective for many sufferers.

Now, scientists are testing whether cannabis could be used to treat migraines, in what is believed to be the first trial of its kind.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, are testing several compounds found in cannabis, including THC and CBD, on participants who suffer from severe migraines.

The team hopes the findings from the trial could help pave the way for a treatment for patients whose lives are disrupted on a regular basis from migraines.

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Scientists are testing whether cannabis could be used to treat migraines, in what is believed to be the first trial of its kind

WHAT CAUSES  MIGRAINES?

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, according to the NHS.

But they’re thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. 

‘It’s not clear what causes this change in brain activity, but it’s possible that your genes make you more likely to experience migraines as a result of a specific trigger,’ the NHS says. 

 The NHS lists a range of physical, emotional, environmental and dietary triggers on its website.

Read more: NHS website 

Migraines are a common condition that tend to start in early adulthood, although the cause remains unclear.

The NHS explained: ‘A migraine is usually a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on 1 side of the head.

‘Many people also have symptoms such as feeling sick, being sick and increased sensitivity to light or sound.’

There are several treatment options available, including painkillers and anti-emetics to help with the nausea.

However, these are ineffective for many people, who are forced to deal with the painful episodes regularly.

Now, researchers in California have launched a small scale trial to see if cannabis compounds could be effective to treat migraines.

Dr Nathaniel Schuster, who is leading the trial, said: ‘Many patients who suffer from migraines have experienced them for many years but have never discussed them with their physicians.

‘They are, rather, self-treating with various treatments, such as cannabis.

‘Right now, when patients ask us if cannabis works for migraines, we do not have evidence-based data to answer that question.’

So far, approximately 20 participants have been enrolled who experience migraines every month, are not regular cannabis users and are aged 21-65.

Migraines are a common condition that tend to start in early adulthood, although the cause remains unclear

Each participant will receive one of four vapourised treatments – one with THC, one with CBD, one with a combination of the two, or a placebo. 

Dr Schuster explained: ‘Vaporized cannabis may be more effective for those patients who have nausea or gastrointestinal issues with their migraines.’

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis products. 

THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, and is what makes people feel ‘high’, while CBD is thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of wellbeing.

One of the participants in the trial is Allison Knigge, who regularly experiences migraines but has found no treatments to be effective.

Ms Knigge said: ‘I am proud and grateful to be part of a study that could lead to more tools in the toolbox for those of us who suffer from migraines.

‘It could mean one more option when all other options have not worked. This is truly significant for patients whose lives are disrupted on a regular basis from migraines.’

The team hopes to enroll a total of 90 participants going forwards, although a timeline for the trial remains unclear.

CANNABIS: THE FACTS

Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning possession could result in a five year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail.

However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy. 

But smoking it can also lead to feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia.

Scientific studies have shown the drug can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use may worsen depression in the long term by reducing the brain’s ability to let go of bad memories.

It can also contribute to mental health problems among people who already have them, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.

Marijuana can be prescribed for medical uses in more than half of US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it could help people with autism,eczema or psoriasis.

Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and one 52 year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and stomach cancer by taking the drug.

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