Is marijuana an effective treatment for migraines?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
MedlinePlus, the National Library of Medicine's online Medical Encyclopedia (accessed June 26, 2006), wrote:
"A Migraine is a type of primary headache that some people get repeatedly over time. Migraines are different from other headaches because they occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. In most people, a throbbing pain is felt only on one side of the head."
John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD, Medical Advisor on the Board of Directors of MAGNUM at the National Migraine Association, on Mar. 23, 2005 said in response to "Studies About the Effects of Marijuana on Migraine?" on "Ask the Clinician" on about.com:
"The literature on the effect of marijuana on migraines is very poor, indeed. As you can imagine, it is not a topic the government will support readily. Most 'studies' are anecdotes and formal research is lacking. There is some theoretical information why cannabinoids may be useful in treating migraines and pain and there are also small published studies suggesting that marijuana can increase headaches."
Is marijuana an effective treatment for migraines?
Philip Denney, MD, Co-founder of a medical cannabis evaluation practice, in the June 2, 2005 Whittier Daily News is quoted by Shirley Hsu in the article "Migraine Sufferer Finds Relief from Marijuana":
"Cannabis is one of the best medicines for migraines. It's so effective - it works rapidly, and it has limited toxicity, although lung damage from smoking is a concern."
Jack Herer, author and pro-marijuana activist, wrote in his Nov. 2000 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes:
"Because migraine headaches are the result of artery spasms combined with over-relaxation of veins, the vascular changes cannabis causes in the covering of the brain (the meninges) usually make migraines disappear."
Ethan Russo, MD, Senior Medical Advisor at the Cannabinoid Research Institute, in a 2001 article "Hemp for Headache: An In-Depth Historical and Scientific Review of Cannabis in Migraine Treatment," published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, wrote:
"In closing, a unique dance of medical science and politics is occurring that will soon decide whether herbal cannabis (a derivative, or synthetic analogue) will rise like the legendary phoenix to resume an ancient role as a remedy for migraine and neuropathic pain."
David L. Bearman, MD, physician and medical marijuana expert, in a letter printed in the Feb. 3, 2005 edition of Los Angeles City Beat, wrote:
"Not only are there thousands of migraine patients who benefit from cannabis, but cannabis has been cited by such historical medical luminaries as Sir William Osler, M.D. (considered the father of modern medicine) and Dr. Morris Fishbein (long-time editor of JAMA) as the best treatment for migraines (back in the days before the Congress ignored the AMA and over the AMA’s objection, passed the Marijuana Tax Act)."
[Editor's Note: Dr. Bearman responded to the Con statements in a Jan. 11, 2011 email to ProCon.org:
"A couple of the con statements on the use of cannabis to prevent and/or relieve the symptoms of migraine headaches correctly note that there have been no double blind studies done. This observation does not abrogate thousands of years of anecdotal evidence and over one hundred years of support by prominent figures in the medical establishment... While double blind studies are certainly important, in the United States such studies have not been allowed...
Dr. Russo, a well respected neurologist, author, researcher and North American Consultant to GW Pharmaceuticals, tried for four years to get the federal government to approve just such a double blind research project. They refused...
Just as a historical note; when aspirin was first used for treating headaches no double blind studies were done, yet we still believe that aspirin treats headaches. Aspirin was based on centuries of use of willow bark by Native Americans. Aspirin was grand-mothered in by the 1938 Food, Cosmetics and Drug Act and to the best of my knowledge has never received modern FDA approval because it never had to. Many experts say that if aspirin had to undergo the contemporary FDA approval process it would be far from a shoe in to receive that approval."]
Journal of Palliative Care reported in a Summer 2002 article "Medical Efficacy of Cannabinoids and Marijuana: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature" by Sean M. Bagshaw and Neil A. Hagen:
"To date, no randomized clinical trials in humans have established a role for either smoked or oral formulations of cannabinoids for use as acute or prophylactic therapy in patients suffering from migraine."
The Institute of Medicine published in its Mar. 1999 report titled "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base":
"Marijuana has been proposed numerous times as a treatment for migraine headaches, but there are almost no clinical data on the use of marijuana or cannabinoids for migraine.
Our search of the literature since 1975 yielded only one scientific publication on the subject. It presents three cases of cessation of daily marijuana smoking followed by migraine attacks -- not convincing evidence that marijuana relieves migraine headaches.
The same result could have been found if migraine headaches were a consequence of marijuana withdrawal. While there is no evidence that marijuana withdrawal is followed by migraines, when analyzing the strength of reports such as these it is important to consider all logical possibilities.
Various people have claimed that marijuana relieves their migraine headaches, but at this stage there are no conclusive clinical data or published surveys about the effect of cannabinoids on migraine."
William Young, MD, Director of the In-Patient Program at the Jefferson Headache Center, and Mary Paolone, RN, wrote in the Summer 2003 Headache, the newsletter of the American Council for Headache Education:
"As a physician treating headache patients for a number of years, I have seen no one who has reported a sustained headache benefit from using marijuana.
There have also been reports of marijuana being associated with increased headache. One study suggested that migraine sufferers usually develop tension-type headache after chronic use.
The potential intoxicating effect, possible long-term harm with frequent use, and the social stigma associated with this herb are likely to restrict its medicinal use for headache conditions."