Headaches and Cannabis - Everything You Need | cannabisMD

Getting Rid of Your Headache with Cannabis – Everything You Need

Everything you need to know about getting rid of your headache

Image Credit: By nathapol HPS on Shutterstock

Whether it’s loud music, work drama, whining children or that strong odor of your Aunt Iris’ perfume, headaches can be hard to avoid. So often in stressful situations, we catch ourselves doing the ever popular “temple rub” in an attempt to ward off an impending headache. Headaches are all too common in the busy, high-paced society in which we live today. They are so common, in fact, that there are even different kinds of headaches and different causes for them. There are also numerous treatments and remedies for headaches. Cannabis and CBD have confidently been put on this list and could help control those frequent headaches. So if avoiding Aunt Iris and her cloud of perfume isn’t feasible, cannabis might be the headache remedy to consider.

What Could Be Causing Your Headaches?

There are so many reasons a person may develop a headache, and those reasons don’t stop at simply having a rough day. Sometimes the reasons for these headaches (especially if they are recurring) go deeper. Some common causes of headaches include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Tension
  • Dehydration
  • Certain scents, sounds, and lights

However, causes of a chronic headache may be a little more complicated. In some cases, a bad headache could result from a disease, injury or swelling in the area surrounding the brain.

People will oftentimes say that when experiencing a headache, it feels as if their brain is swelling; as if their head is about to explode. This will sometimes come as a throbbing feeling, seemingly in the brain region. The brain, though, does not actually have any pain receptors and can therefore not experience pain. Dawn A. Marcus from the Scientific American explains:

“Interestingly, brain tissue does not feel pain in the same way skin or other organs do. Because the brain is encased in a hard, protective covering, it has not developed to respond to touch or pressure sensations like other, more exposed parts of our bodies have. Indeed, a brain surgeon can actually cut brain tissue in an awake patient without the patient feeling the knife.”

Headache pain that seems to be in the brain is actually coming from the surrounding areas. Damaged nerves, blood vessels, muscles, or sensory organs could be to blame for the pain.

Tension headaches will often start with things like staring at a screen for too long resulting in eye strain. It could also happen during times of stress and anxiety when we are tense. Lack of sleep could also cause strain on the eyes and muscles leading to headache pain. Whichever muscle group that is under strain will then affect the nerve clusters around it. For example, if working on a computer too long is the source of your headache, your brain may feel as it is pushing on your eyes, when in reality it is your eyes that are the culprit.

Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the earth’s rotation can have a lot to do with when people have the most headaches. The start of the summer isn’t always a jubilant event for everyone. As the Earth shifts towards the sun, nearly 1 million people suffer from the worst kind of headaches out there: cluster headaches. As humans, our biological rhythms are tied to the earth’s rotation which means that we can be greatly affected by its movements.

Many headaches are a result of environmental factors, but some begin internally. Many women will find that they get more headaches when they are experiencing a change in hormone levels.

There are many different causes of a headache, however the science of headaches can help us understand what is actually happening in our body when headaches occur.

According to the Scientific American, a few things occur to lead to a headache. Internal and external triggers such as lack of sleep, fasting, hormonal changes and stress can set the ball rolling. These triggers will then prompt the brain to signal the pain center to release serotonin and norepinephrine. This causes the meningeal blood vessels to expand. When this expansion happens it increases the blood flow in these vessels which can make that area more tender. Naturally, as the blood vessels swell this also stretches the surrounding nerves which cause them to send messages to the trigeminal system. This system relays pain messages to the head and face. This activation is what commonly causes pain around the eye and cheek which can be perceived as pain in the sinuses when it is in fact not. When the trigeminal system is activated it can also send signals to the hypothalamus and the upper part of the cervical spinal cord, which can lead to muscle spasms in the neck.

This is often the actual source of pain during a headache. Its never actually your brain at all, though it certainly may feel that way.

There are many different kinds of headaches, and they all have their own special set of reasons why they occur and varying severity levels.

So what kind of headache could you be plaguing you?

Curious to know more about why headaches occur? Check out Why Does That Headache Keep Coming Back? for more information.

The Most Common Types of Headaches

All headaches are not created equal. Each comes with their own sets of symptoms and can be brought on for various reasons. Some are duller, others are severe and can be debilitating. According to WebMD, there are 150 different types of headaches with varying side effects.

Here are a few of the most common headaches:

Tension headaches: Tension headaches are common in adults and teens, but women are twice as likely to suffer from tension headaches as men. These headaches can cause mild to severe pain in your neck and behind your eyes. Causes for tension headaches vary, but common triggers include:

  • Alcohol
  • Eye strain
  • Smoking
  • Sinus Infection
  • Caffeine
  • Poor posture
  • Emotional stress
  • Hunger
  • Low iron levels
  • Lack of sleep

This is just to name a few. For some people, tension headaches are caused by tightened muscles at the back of the neck. Others don’t have this tightening of the muscles and the cause of their tension headaches is unclear. Other than this there are no other nerve symptoms and the side effects of a tension headache are not nearly as severe as others types such as migraines.

Migraine: This headache is known by most people, even if they’ve never experience one. It is often seen as the all dreaded headache, as migraines can be extremely painful and can interfere with day to day life in a big way. These headaches are classified as intense headaches that are associated with a pounding, throbbing pain. Often those who suffer from migraines will experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sounds.

These migraine attacks can last for hours and sometimes days. The pain associated with migraines can be disabling. Auras are known as warning signs that a migraine is about to occur. These include flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in the face, arm or leg. Migraines have different stages called prodrome, aura, headache, and post-drome. You may not experience all of these stages every time.

Cluster headaches: If you thought that migraines were bad, they may be looking pretty good after learning about these bad boys. This type of headache is very intense and feels like a burning or piercing pain around or at times, behind the eyes. This pain could be either throbbing or constant. Cluster headaches are much less common than tension headaches and migraines and are more common in men than women. These headaches can last for about an hour to three hours and may return throughout the course of several days in a week to a month. There are two types of cluster headaches:

  1. Episodic: With this type of cluster headache, you may experience two or three headaches a day for a couple of months and then have a period of about a year where no headaches occur. The cycle will continue to repeat itself after this approximate year period. This is the most common form of cluster headache.
  2. Chronic: This type is similar to the episodic form, but there is no rest time in between. Those suffering from chronic cluster headaches will need treatment to find relief from these headaches.

During an attack from a cluster headache, the face may get red and swollen and the eyes can become teary. These usually pop up in the spring or fall, and many mistake them for allergies.

A patient of the director of Montefiore Headache Center, Dr. Brian Groberg, describes his pain with cluster headaches like this:

I infrequently get a headache, however, during the longest and shortest days of the year, the left side of my face would contort and I would be in severe pain,” said Robert Drain, a former firefighter, who lives in Yonkers. “I would find myself walking in circles; it was almost like I was trying to run away from the agony. By tracking my headaches in a log, Dr. Grosberg and I were able to figure out that I was experiencing cluster headaches

Sinus headaches: These headaches happen when the sinuses are infected. When the sinuses become inflamed, the pressure from this will cause pain in your cheekbones, forehead or the bridge of your nose. Sinus pressure can also cause pain in your teeth as well. Since this type of headache accompanies a sinus infection, other symptoms will be present as well. A runny nose, the feeling of plugged ears, fever and swelling in your face may all accompany a sinus headache. Unlike the clear nasal discharge from migraine and cluster headaches, sinus headaches will have a yellow or green nasal discharge due to the infected sinuses.

Hormone headaches: Women may experience hormone headaches during times of hormonal mayhem (ladies, you know what I’m talking about). These are called hormonal headaches and are associated with changing hormone levels. This can happen during your monthly period, pregnancy, menopause and with hormone changes from taking birth control pills.

What Treatments Are Available?

Different treatments are necessary for different types of headaches. Oftentimes the headaches will go away on their own. A simple night’s sleep will do the trick with many tension headaches if the reason for a headache is sleep or stress related. Managing the amount of stress in your life in a more productive manner can also help reduce the number of headaches you experience. However, if you are suffering from severe headaches, medications may be prescribed to help treat the pain.

Along with medication, biofeedback is also used as a way to manage headaches, specifically migraines. Studies show that blood flow differs in the brain during a migraine as opposed to headache-free periods. When a person uses biofeedback, they actually change the blood flow to the brain. This has been proven to help headaches happen less often and for shorter periods of times.

Other helpful remedies for headaches include massages, herbs, aromatherapy and dietary changes.

One good thing to note with any treatment is that it becomes more difficult for the headache treatments to work once the headache is in full swing. Headache medication needs to be taken in the early stages in order to be the most effective. If you suffer from headaches such as migraines you may have warning signs that a headache is about to happen. Keeping a journal of your symptoms can help predict when another migraine will occur, and when the best time to start treatment will be.

Even with this list of treatments, some people still struggle to find relief from their severe headaches. That’s why many people are turning to cannabis to help take the pain away. Studies on cannabis suggest that some of its compounds could aid in the treatment of headaches.

But how can cannabis be useful for a painful headache? What types of superpowers does a remedy have to have to fight off something as powerful as a migraine or cluster headache? Are there more treatments out there?

If you are wanting more information on how cannabis could be a viable option for treating your headaches, read Can CBD and/or THC Help Relieve Cluster Headaches When All Else Fail?

Finding Headache Relief

There are many different kinds of headache treatments available, as noted above. Many who want to avoid pain medications will simply change their lifestyles. Whether this means maintaining a healthy diet, correcting your posture or developing a regular exercise routine, simple changes like these could lead to a healthier body and prevent headaches from occurring. Diet, posture and regular exercise aren’t the only ways to encourage a healthy body, Maintaining your stress load responsibly will also aid in keeping your headaches at bay.

However, if these don’t work for you, medication may be where you turn. There are different types of pain medications that work for varying types of headaches. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen are usually recommended for tension headaches. It is important to use caution when taking these medications, however, as taking too many could result in rebound headaches which are very hard to treat. Aspirin is also only recommended to those who are over the age of 19 as it can increase their risk of Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a childhood and adolescent disorder. It is a progressive disorder that affects fatty changes in the liver. It causes sudden swelling of the brain and is believed to have a direct association with aspirin medications.

A class of drugs called triptans are also frequently perscribed. The medications within this class include Relpax, Amerge, Maxalt, Imitrex and Zomig among others. They can be administered a few different ways such as pill form, injections and nasal spray.

If your headaches are more severe often your doctor will prescribe other medications to treat your headaches. These could include muscle relaxants, antidepressants and blood pressure drugs.

When it comes to cluster headaches, the options can be limited. These headaches tend to come on strong and medications often don’t work quickly enough. According to WebMD, doctors are finding that inhaling pure oxygen can actually help bring relief. Also, applying lidocaine inside the nose may help as well. When taken at the first signs of a cluster headache, triptan injections could also be an option. Doctors may also suggest using preventative measures including a blood pressure medication called verapamil or the steroid medication prednisone.

Pain medication can be, not only addictive, but harsh on the body. Prescription drugs in, general, can come with their fair share of undesirable side effects, and the drugs listed above are no different. Prednisone is known to cause an entire list of dangerous side effects which include coughing up blood, dangerously high blood pressure, severe depression, feeling short of breath, and even changes in shape or location of body fat. The medication Relpax has heart attacks, Serotonin syndrome, Raynaud’s syndrome and problems with blood circulation on its list of side effects.

This is why many are choosing less dangerous, but effective alternative treatments. These treatments include, but are not limited to:

Acupuncture: Studies show that by placing needles at specific points on the body, it may help to relieve tension and migraine headaches.

Biofeedback: This can help you to control different muscle group’s reaction to stress, which can help with tension headache.

Botox: Botox is best known for its treatment for wrinkles, but the FDA has also approved its use to prevent migraine headaches in adults. If you get 15 or more migraine headaches a month, then you can receive a Botox treatment every 3 weeks.

Mind-body medicine: Treatments such as hypnosis, meditation, yoga, visualization and deep breathing can help prevent tension headaches by helping you to relax. Psychotherapists can also help you to deal with your stress by redirecting the energy you put into negative thoughts. This energy can then focus on a more positive outlook and attitude.

Some studies also suggest that cannabis could be an effective headache remedy choice as well. Though more research needs to be done to confirm exactly how effective cannabis is for headaches, there are still those who swear by marijuana for controlling their headache pain.

Many people are scared away from cannabis because of this simple reason that it can get you high.

However, the cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that makes you high is tetrahydrocannabinol, which is only one of 85 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plants. One beneficial cannabinoid that is gaining in popularity is cannabidiol or CBD.

So what is CBD? And why is it so important?

For more how to help ease your headache through mind-body medicine check out Guide to A Calm Body and Mind.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol or CBD is one of 85 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plants. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring molecules that stimulate or block the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. The body naturally produces cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids, while the cannabis plant produces phytocannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC has gained popularity because of its ability to create a high for its user. THC is therefore very psychotropic. CBD, however, does not have this ability. When CBD enters the body, it does stimulate the brain to do certain things, just as THC and other cannabinoids do. However, CBD is not psychotropic and stimulates the brain in different ways. This means that though it does activate receptors in the brain, which tells the brain to release certain chemicals, it does not produce any feeling of euphoria or dysphoria. Much of CBD’s recent popularity has come from the fact that it is a non-psychotropic constituent. CBD is being used strictly for its medicinal properties, and it has many uses to consider. CBD is helping the cannabis plant in gaining recognition as a medicinal plant instead of a recreational substance.

When considering CBD for headache relief it is important to understand just how CBD works. If you’re considering CBD oil for relief from tension headaches, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Since one of the main causes of tension headaches is stress, CBD could help control stress levels by activating 5-HT1A, a serotonin receptor. Serotonin is a G-coupled protein that helps neurological issues such as pain perception, anxiety, addiction, sleep and nausea. By reducing pain perception this could help alleviate pain when experiencing a headache.

Not only can CBD help with treating pain, it is also useful in treating anxiety. In a study conduct on CBD and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), those with GAD reported felling a significant drop in their level of anxiety while using CBD.

By helping to relieve stress and anxiety, CBD could help those suffering from tension headaches. Activating the 5-HT1A receptors can also help with getting more quality sleep. Exhaustion is a common cause of tension headaches, and quality sleep could relieve those headaches tremendously.

Pain in the head area isn’t the only thing that can afflict migraine sufferers. They oftentimes have more symptoms than this, including nausea. CBD could help elevate this symptom as well.

Think CBD is looking pretty good?

It gets better.

The 5-HT1A receptors aren’t the only ones that react to CBD. GPR55, or orphan receptors, are spread throughout the brain. GPR55 are often referred to as “orphan receptors” due to scientists not knowing if they may belong to a bigger group of receptors. Along with GPR55’s ability to regulate bone density, it can also help regulate blood pressure.

This could help to replace the blood pressure medication, verapamil, which is often prescribed for cluster headaches. Verapamil comes with side effects such as lung problems and liver problems. Chest pain can also be a side effect of taking verapamil.

CBD, however, doesn’t contain these side effects. In fact, CBD is relatively safe for most people with little to no side effects. The few side effects of CBD that have been reported are dry-mouth, light-headedness, low blood pressure and drowsiness. These side effects are relatively mild compared to that of verapamil.

CBD certainly has its benefits for headaches, but it’s not the only cannabinoid to consider when looking for a headache remedy.

While CBD works well on its own, it can do some pretty marvelous things with THC by its side too. Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado conducted a study on the effects of inhaled cannabis on migraine suffers. There were some amazing results.

121 adults participated in the study and this is what researchers found:

  • Migraine frequency decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 headaches per month
  • About 40% of patients reported that the frequency of their migraines decreases.
  • Almost 20% of the participants claimed that cannabis helped to prevent migraines.
  • Approximately 12% of the participants reported that cannabis stopped their migraine headaches.

In this study, inhalation seemed to be the most effective method of preventing headaches, while edibles took longer to provide relief and were more likely to come with negative side effects.

It’s still unclear why cannabis helps migraines, but this recent research did help to support that the use of cannabis can provide relief for migraine sufferers. 85% of participants in this study found a reduction of migraine frequency to some degree, and that’s no small amount.

While more studies need to be done on the specifics to fully grasp medical marijuana’s role in helping with headaches, we do know that it does help. Severe headaches are less than fun to live with, especially when your everyday activities become impossible tasks due to headache pain. All headaches are as unique as those who suffer from them, which means that treatment success can vary.

If you’ve exhausted your options of headache remedies, CBD or cannabis could be a great option for you. Medical cannabis and CBD is still not legal in all states, so make sure to check your state laws before using cannabis. And, as with any medicinal substance, consult a trusted physician before using CBD or cannabis.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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