Cannabis may cut headache and migraine pain by almost half

25 Nov 2019

Image: © Africa Studio/

With some notable limitations, a study claims cannabis has benefits when it comes to relieving a stressful headache or migraine.

A study of 1,300 patients who self-reported their use of smoking cannabis has shown that those taking part believe the drug is an effective pain relief for headaches and migraines. The Washington State University study, published in the Journal of Pain, reported that participants’ headache severity decreased by 47.3pc and migraine severity by 49.6pc.

As part of the study, researchers analysed archival data taken from the Strainprint app designed to allow patients to track symptoms before and after using medical cannabis purchased from Canadian producers and distributors.

The patients’ data showed they used the app more than 12,200 times to track changes in headaches before and after cannabis use, as well as 653 who used the app more than 7,400 times to track migraine severity.

“We were motivated to do this study because a substantial number of people say they use cannabis for headache and migraine, but surprisingly few studies had addressed the topic,” said Carrie Cuttler, lead author on the paper.

“We wanted to approach this in an ecologically valid way, which is to look at actual patients using whole plant cannabis to medicate in their own homes and environments.”

A starting point

Cuttler said that their findings showed no evidence that the drug caused ‘overuse headaches’ where conventional cannabis treatments can make headaches worse over time. However, they did notice that the patients were using larger doses over time, indicating they might be developing a tolerance to the drug.

They also noted that in concentrated form – such as cannabis oil – it produced a larger reduction in headaches than from cannabis flower. No significant difference in pain reduction was seen among cannabis strains that were higher or lower in levels of the most common cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol.

As cannabis is made up of more than 100 cannabinoids, Cuttler and her fellow researchers suggest that different cannabinoids or other constituents such as terpenes may be key to headache or migraine relief.

Given that the findings are self-reported by people who may be biased in their opinions of the effects of cannabis and the lack of a placebo control group, Cuttler admitted that further research will need to be done.

“My hope is that this research will motivate researchers to take on the difficult work of conducting placebo-controlled trials,” she said.

“In the meantime, this at least gives medical cannabis patients and their doctors a little more information about what they might expect from using cannabis to manage these conditions.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic