Migraine can be a devastating and utterly miserable condition that can have a profound effect upon the patient’s quality of life. Medical cannabis can offer a really effective, side-effect free treatment option, as we see in our patients’ story with Mike.
A migraine is categorised as a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. It is generally accompanied with symptoms such as feeling sick, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. It’s a common health condition, affecting around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men and they usually begin in early adulthood. No-one knows exactly what causes migraines, although they’re thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Many patients find they have a specific trigger such as certain food or drink, stress, tiredness or hormonal changes such as starting your period. Around half of all people who experience migraines also have a close relative with the condition.
There are several types of migraine, including:
- migraine with aura – where there are specific warning signs just before the migraine begins, such as seeing flashing lights
- migraine without aura – the most common type, where the migraine happens without the specific warning signs
- migraine aura without headache, also known as silent migraine – where an aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced, but a headache does not develop
The frequency of the occurrence of migraines really depends upon the individual. It can be several times a week to every few years.
There’s no one specific cure for migraines. Patients try pain medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen and triptans to help with the pain but these medicines are often ineffective If you suspect a specific trigger is causing your migraines, such as stress or a certain type of food, avoiding this trigger may help reduce your risk of experiencing migraines. It may also help to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, sleep and meals, as well as ensuring you stay well hydrated and limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Cannabis medicines have been found by certain patients to be incredibly helpful in the management of pain.
Dr Anthony Ordman, Senior Clinical Adviser and Hon. Clinical Director of Integro Clinics tell us why; ”Recent medical scientific research is showing that cannabis medicines can have several useful roles in the prevention of migraine, and also reducing pain if a migraine attack does occur. It is likely that substances in cannabis medicines (plant-derived CBD, THC and terpenes) all have roles to play, and that they supplement the activity of the brain’s naturally occurring endocannabinoid system. This system may be under-active in people prone to migraine.
There are three likely mechanisms by which cannabis medicines may be effective. Firstly, the natural stabilising or anticonvulsant effect of the cannabinoids suppresses the spreading abnormal wave of voltage depression in the brain’s cortical neurones. This wave precedes all migraine attacks and causes the aura familiar to migraine sufferers. Secondly, cannabis substances are thought to stabilise the mast cells of the immune system. In migraine, mast cells are involved in dilatation, or opening up of the blood vessels of the brain’s lining (dura), causing that familiar pulsating headache.
Cannabis medicines may prevent this process from occurring.
And finally, as in other painful conditions, if a migraine does occur, cannabis medicines are likely to block the transmission of pain messages in nerves running from the brain stem to the pain centres of the brain, to reduce pain itself.
A recent study showed that cannabinoids may reduce migraine severity by 49.6%, without causing the ‘overuse headache,’ that other pain medicines such as paracetamol may cause.”
Mike is a physically fit 37 year-old South African who first experienced migraines as a teenager. The pain he suffered was agonising and totally debilitating. It disturbed his vision, caused nausea and deep pain. Prior to the onset he experienced the aura of lights and would go blind in one eye.
An attack could wipe out days of his life whilst he recovered. For several days after the attack, he would feel befuddled and that his brain was not working properly.
Initially he looked into what could be causing the migraines worrying that he might have a brain tumour, but MRI scans thankfully showed that this was not the case. It was through luck and circumstance he stumbled upon cannabis as a medicine for his condition.
Mike was out playing golf in the hot sun and he became dehydrated. He felt the first symptoms of the headache begin so he paused for a rest under a tree and smoked some cannabis. Instantly, he felt the pain begin to recede and he knew he had found a solution to his condition. He also wanted to point out that he was able to finish his round of golf and win ! He came to the realisation that dehydration and hot sun were his major triggers.
Using cannabis would also mean that when a migraine did come it would last for a much shorter period of time and there was none of the post attack brain fog.
“I cannot recommend medical cannabis highly enough as treatment for migraine. It addresses all of the symptoms of the loss of vision, nausea and deep pain by addressing the inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain” – Mike
Integro Medical Clinics Ltd always recommend remaining under the care and treatment of your GP and specialist for your condition, while using cannabis-based medicines, and the Integro clinical team would always prefer to work in collaboration with them”. – Dr Anthony Ordman, Senior Clinical Adviser and Hon. Clinical Director Integro Medical Clinics Limited