Have you ever felt like God herself has taken an electric screwdriver, flicked the switch, and drilled it straight into your skull? No? Congratulations, you haven’t known a migraine. Because if you know, you know; a screwdriver is the kind of thing you fantasize about when the pressure in your head feels like it’ll end you for good this time. It’s not just a bad headache.
To witness a migraine coming on can only be described as dreadful. You quickly unravel—mind, body, and even spirit.
Picture this: I’m typing on my computer, with its perpetually darkened screen, and I suddenly notice the words have gone blurry. I blink and look around the room, but the blurry-ness is everywhere and it’s growing. Here we go: Anxiety sets in as I think about spending the next five to 48 hours debilitated and in intense pain. Probably vomiting. Alone in a room, in total darkness that’s never dark enough. In silence that’s never properly silent, instead clanging with the sounds of the street, the room, my breath, my thoughts. Welcome to hell. I’m here a few times a month.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 18 percent of women in the US live with migraines and 6 percent of men. It’s the third most prevalent illness in the world and is regarded as a neurological disease with incapacitating symptoms like visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to all stimulus, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face.
As you can imagine, people who live with chronic migraine are also more at risk of mental health issues like depression and anxiety, given the disruption they cause in people’s lives. While possible triggers are legion and many, for me they include: stress, diet, most smells, noise, making sudden movements, and my own hormones. And once an attack has passed? I have what can only be described as a “hangover” that involves feeling deeply groggy, physically stiff, mentally confused, and sensitive to the above things all over again. I’m fun!
If you’re reading this, chances are you already get the gist. You want to know about cannabis and migraines. Well, hold on to your hat, because speaking from personal experience, the cannabis plant is a legit game-changer in the inferno-scape that is migraines.
While a few studies have been done as to the efficacy of cannabis for treating migraines (we’ll get to that) more research needs to be done. But like studies, the anecdotal evidence is promising. Here’s mine.
I’ve tried every available drug there is for migraines, save for botox. My liver will probably send me to an early grave because it’s full of pills. Before I started at Miss Grass, I never bought a CBD product let alone take one daily. I hadn’t used a vape pen. I hadn’t tried a CBD-infused topical roller made for pain relief. And I hadn’t tried smoking a joint or pipe that wasn’t filled with legal weed from my home country. To say the calibre of the many, many cannabis varietals available in California—all legal—are different is the kind of uber-understatement for which an exact word only exists in German.
When Miss Grass co-founder Anna handed me a bunch of a common cannabis varietal called Purple Punch and told me to “smoke this!” as I was halfway out the door, heading home to total darkness, I thought of all the tobacco-mixed, migraine-inducing weed I’d smoked back home (the folly of youth). I was scared. But smoke some, I did. Just one drag at first. I breathed it out and immediately laid down flat in my bed, makeshift ice-pack over my eyes to block out the “light.” From under my icey dish towel, I felt relaxed. The stiffness in my arms and legs was melting away. I felt the weight of my body on the bed. Instead of laying there, suffering for what feels like eternity, I fell asleep.
How Does It Work?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the network of cannabinoid receptors that exists within our body to regulate how we feel pain. The natural compounds found in cannabis (cannabinoids like CBD and THC) seek out these receptors, and can ease pain signals as a result. That’s why more and more people are looking to analgesic CBD products, and cannabis more broadly, to help with sleep, appetite stimulation, mood and stress, and to combat inflammation and nausea. So when we talk about the efficacy of managing migraines with cannabis, we’re talking about the adjacent symptoms as well as pain relief.
One of the most well-known studies conducted in 2016 focused on 121 adults living with migraines who were administered cannabis in edible and inhalable forms. Of this focus group, 19 percent experienced less migraines, 11 percent saw an improvement in acute migraine attacks, and 11 percent experienced side effects of some kind, with the most common being tiredness and difficulty controlling the timing and intensity of the high. Over a four year period, the study also found inhalation was the most effective method.
A year later in 2017, a study comparing cannabis treatments with traditional prescription migraine medications—by studying 127 participants with chronic migraines as well as severe cluster headaches—found that the plant was more effective as a pain reliever, with fewer side effects. “What’s the downside?” you ask. Well, thanks to the racism-fuelled criminalization of a plant used to treat head pain since Ancient Greek, Indian, Assyrian, and Persian times (plus the middle ages), not enough scientific studies—that include a control group—have been conducted.
Control groups are kind of a big deal when you think about the placebo effect, especially in the context of the good will more and more people have towards cannabis as a tool for wellness. Further, self-reporting participants may not account for instances of dependence, rebound, or withdrawal symptoms. And if you’ve ever known anyone (or been anyone) who’s self-medicated with cannabis—especially with no knowledge of the correct dosing amounts of various conditions—you know it’s far from sunshine and rainbows, always.
How To Incorporate It
So until the scientific powers that be give more funding to researchers interested in the ECS, what to do? Well, I don’t know. But I can tell you what works for me. Joan Didion described managing migraines thusly: “I have learned now to live with it, learned when to expect it, how to outwit it, even how to regard it, when it does come, as more friend than lodger. We have reached a certain understanding, my migraine and I.”
Regarding your migraine as a friend is a little rich, but the point is: there’s hope.
First thing’s first: Don’t expect a cannabis miracle. While it’s done wonders for me, it’s not the only thing I have going on. I inject myself monthly with a migraine medication, I still take sumatriptan when an attack hits, and I carry around prescription grade ibuprofen. Cannabis has helped me reduce my dependency on all of the above, and while the injections follow the same cadence, my pill intake has noticeably decreased and my bank balance is grateful.
Taking cannabis products is something of a lifestyle, so you have to make it part of your daily routine to get the most out of it. Like vitamins! On the average day, this is what I do: Take two to three puffs of the Wildflower CBD+ vape pen over the course of a day. Take a vial full of Mineral’s Robyn for Sleep tincture formula right before bed. Before drifting off, I also sometimes like a puff or two of a 2:1 CBD to THC mini pre-roll joints, like Henry’s. That’s it!
And as Plant and Prospere’s Kimberley Dillion explained it at a Miss Grass event recently, if CBD is your daily vitamin, think of THC-based products as your Advil: Take it at the first sign of pain. My favourite products for coping with a migraine attack Tonic’s pain relieving roll-on CBD formula—it has soothing essential oils but isn’t overly smelly. On that topical note, rubbing some White Flower Oil or White Tiger Balm on your temples is a nice alternative, albeit CBD-less.
But of course, the biggest game-changer could be actual flower varietals, like Blackberry Kush, Blue Widow, or my favorite, Purple Punch. Go to a dispensary and see what works for you. The budtenders there are also your first port of call for responsible dosage, methods, and general use info. A drag or two when you’re safely under the covers could do wonders for you.
It did for me. And to think, I was beginning to get bitter.