Migraine headaches can be extremely severe and debilitating. Scientists and doctors are not sure exactly why some people get migraines but it appears that genetics and environmental factors both play a role. About 15% of the population suffer with migraines. They are more common in women. About 80% of people who have migraines have a family member who also has migraines.
Migraines are possibly caused by changes in the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. Imbalances in brain chemicals also may be the culprit. One of our neurotransmitters, serotonin — which helps regulate pain in the nervous system — also may be involved.
There are a number of factors that can be the starting cause of migraines; these are called triggers. Some well known triggers for migraines are hormonal changes (menstruation, menopause, pregnancy), certain foods (MSG, chocolate, cheese, nuts, alcohol), missing a meal, change in weather, or very commonly, stress.
About 20% of migraine sufferers have an aura (usually a visual disturbance) before the onset of pain. More often there is just the onset of pain which becomes severe and debilitating. Although migraine pain usually appears on one side of the head, 30-40% of migraineurs have them on both sides. One can have nausea, vomiting, light-sensitivity and sound sensitivity. Migraines can last anywhere from 4 hours to 3 days.
Many of the medications currently used for migraine headaches have significant side effects and often do not prevent or relieve all of the symptoms. Marijuana was used to treat migraine headaches for many years in the nineteenth century, however due to the political climate and attitude towards marijuana in the twentieth century, it was not researched or promoted as an effective treatment for migraines. Many people who suffer from migraines found on their own that marijuana either prevented or lessened the intolerable pain from this condition. Recent research has shown that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, inhibits the release of serotonin from the blood of migraine sufferers during an acute attack, thereby reducing symptoms of pain.
Although further scientific research is needed, many patients are using medical marijuana safely and effectively to prevent and treat their migraine headaches. Many patients have found that they no longer need prescription medications with adverse side effects in order to treat their migraines. Others have found that the other benefits of medical marijuana, like improved sleep and less stress and anxiety, reduce the frequency of their migraines. Overall, medical marijuana patients who have migraine headaches find that their quality of life is improved with this treatment.