The daily administration of cannabinoids over time is associated with a reduction in the frequency of migraine headache, according to findings in a new clinical trial by a team of Italian researchers. The study, presented this summer at the 3rd Congress of the European Academy of Neurology in Amsterdam, found that three months of regular cannabinoid treatments reduced the frequency of migraine by over 40 percent.
Affecting about 12 percent of the United States population, migraine involves severe head pain that is often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Most commonly, migraines begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.
In the study, the researchers, headed by Dr. Maria Nicolodi, investigated the efficacy of oral cannabinoid treatments compared to an anti-depression medication commonly prescribed for migraine — amitriptyline. Seventy-nine patients diagnosed with chronic migraine were given daily treatments of either a 200mg dose of a combination of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), or 25mg amitriptyline. The THC-CBD combination “yielded slightly better results than” the pharmaceutical drug (40.4 percent vs. 40.1 percent).
“We were able to demonstrate that cannabinoids are an alternative to established treatments in migraine prevention,” said Dr. Nicolodi.
When the THC-CBD cannabinoid combination was used for the treatment of acute pain caused by migraine, pain intensity dropped by 43.5 percent. In patients diagnosed with cluster headache, a series of short but extremely painful headaches, the cannabinoids were found to provide that same level of pain relief, provided the patients had experienced migraine in childhood. The cannabinoids were found to have no effect, however, on cluster headaches in patients without previous migraine history.
In summar, for all migraine patients, cannabinoids were effective, but for patients with cluster headaches, “[cannabinoids] are only suited for use in the acute treatment… in patients with a history of migraine from childhood on,” said Dr. Nicolodi.
Migraine is thought to be associated with an abnormal fluctuation in neuronal activities in the brain that activate the trigeminovascular system and lead to an inflammatory response that causes pain. Previous studies have suggested that cannabinoids act upon the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, which in turn inhibits responses of the trigeminovascular system to restrict inflammation. Cannabinoids have been found to reduce the frequency of migraine in previous human studies.
The latest study also found cannabinoids to be well tolerated. The only observed side effects were drowsiness and difficulty concentrating. The researchers noted that the incidence of stomachache, colitis and musculoskeletal pain in female participants also decreased with treatments.
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