Cannabis may not give relief from migraine and may even lead to rebound headaches, says study
People using cannabis are six times more likely to have medication overuse headache than those who did not use it
Many people with chronic migraines self-medicate with cannabis. However, researchers now suggest that people who use cannabis to get relief from migraines may suffer from a ‘rebound’ headache as compared to those who do not use cannabis. Described as “medication overuse headache,” a rebound headache occurs when pain medication is overused by patients who have an underlying primary headache disorder such as migraine.
“There is some evidence that cannabis can help treat other types of chronic pain. However, we found that people who were using cannabis had significantly increased odds of also having medication overuse headache, or rebound headache, compared to people who were not using cannabis,” warns study author Dr Niushen Zhang from the Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
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According to the National Headache Foundation, nearly 40 million Americans have migraine. “Migraine attacks typically start during adolescence or the 20s. About 52% of people living with migraine disease are undiagnosed by a healthcare provider. Migraine affects 13% of the population, and one in every four US households has someone living with migraine. It is estimated that industry loses $31 billion per year due to absenteeism, lost productivity, and medical expenses caused by migraine,” say experts.
The pain of a migraine headache is often described as an intense pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head. However, it is much more: the International Headache Society diagnoses a migraine by its pain and number of attacks (at least 5, lasting 4-72 hours if untreated), and additional symptoms including nausea and/or vomiting, or sensitivity to both light and sound. Roughly one-third of affected individuals can predict the onset of a migraine because it is preceded by an ‘aura,’ visual disturbances that appear as flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a temporary loss of vision.
For the current analysis, the team wanted to answer the question as to whether cannabis use can lead to rebound headaches for people with migraine. Accordingly, they looked at the records of 368 people who had chronic migraine for at least a year. Chronic migraine is defined as 15 or more headache days per month. A total of 150 people were using cannabis and 218 were not.
The investigators looked at who had medication overuse headache and other factors that could affect the development of overuse headache, such as frequency of migraines, overuse of other medications for acute migraine, and how long they had chronic migraine.
Of the 368 people, 212 had medication overuse headache and 156 did not. The analysis reveals that the people using cannabis were six times more likely to have medication overuse headaches than those who did not use cannabis. People who were using opioids were also more likely to have current cannabis use, suggest findings that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 73rd annual meeting. Previous research has shown that opioids and cannabis can both influence the part of the brain called the periaqueductal gray, which has been linked to migraine. “Using cannabis for relief from migraine headache may be associated with developing rebound headache,” the findings state.
While the study has found an association between cannabis and rebound headache, it is not clear whether cannabis directly triggers rebound headaches. The report does not specify what types of cannabis products were used by the patients, so it is unknown whether certain products show a greater link to rebound headaches than others.