Living with any type of chronic pain is frustrating, emotionally taxing, and in many cases, debilitating. Learn how to differentiate between migraine headaches and other headaches, and how to treat them all with essential oils, cannabis, and other unconventional methods.
Are you experiencing headaches more than normal? Are they painful, sometimes to the point of debilitating? Does the pain radiate down the head and neck, or does it feel like a band across your forehead? Does it interfere with your everyday activities? When it comes to treating headaches naturally or learning how to get rid of a migraine without pharmaceuticals, it’s important to know what specific type of headache condition you are treating in order to know how to approach it properly. Follow this simple guide to help determine what kind of headaches you are experiencing and how to treat them unconventionally.
Migraine vs. Headache: what’s the difference?
Many people think that migraines are just really bad headaches, but if you’ve ever experienced a migraine attack, you know this is nowhere near accurate. The truth is, there’s much more behind a migraine than pain.
A migraine headache is the term for a recurring, intense headache on one side of the head, though occasionally, both sides are affected. What sets this headache apart from others is that this aggressive condition is typically accompanied by other severe symptoms, such as:
Doctors aren’t sure what causes this condition. For many years, migraine attacks were believed to be associated with changes in blood flow to and from the brain, but doctors are now learning that it may actually have more to do with genetics than anything. It’s been found that if one parent has migraine headaches, their child has 50% chance of also having or developing the condition. If both parents have it, the likelihood jumps to 75%.
If you are susceptible to migraine headaches, you may start to notice certain things can trigger them, such as:
Being aware of certain triggers can help prevent migraines from happening, but many migraine sufferers aren’t quite sure how to get rid of a migraine once it starts. The most common treatment for migraines are over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but many people report that these medications barely take the edge off, if they do anything at all. Additionally, if you are experiencing chronic migraines, you are likely managing the pain with large doses of these drugs, which can cause permanent damage to the kidneys and other organs. Conventional pharmaceutical treatments will either focus on eliminating an already existing headache or attempt to prevent further attacks from happening. These drugs, while effective, are powerful, can be habit forming, and come with a long list of side effects that many migraine sufferers aren’t willing to sign up for. If conventional migraine medications fail, some people turn to procedures like botox, which is thought to relax (and technically paralyze) the muscles that would be otherwise sensitive to migraine pain.
Headaches, on the other hand, do not usually come with extreme side effects. If you are not prone to migraine attacks and do experience a sudden onset headache with severe symptoms, like a fever, slurred speech, paralysis, etc, seek medical help immediately.
There are a handful of different types of headaches, and they vary in severity and length: some last only about 30 minutes while others can last up to a week. Prolonged headaches are often mistaken for migraines. However, it’s important to pay attention to other symptoms and triggers.
Whether you are suffering from migraines or another type of chronic headache, you might be looking for alternative treatments to NSAIDs and pharmaceuticals. Natural remedies do exist and they absolutely work. Follow this guide for three unconventional (and totally effective) methods to try for your migraines or chronic headaches.
Cannabis oil is an extract from the cannabis (or, more widely known as marijuana) plant. Marijuana is comprised of hundreds of different chemical compounds, some unique only to the marijuana plant; nothing else produces these compounds naturally. These specific compounds, classified as cannabinoids, work directly within a somewhat recently discovered biological system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). This system helps regulate a handful of vital human functions, many of them relating directly to migraine headaches, such as:
So how does the body keep the ECS on track? It produces cannabinoids of its own, of course! Your naturally produced cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, work very similarly to plant cannabinoids within the ECS. The ECS is comprised of receptors, called cannabinoid receptors, that are expressed on the surface of the skin, throughout the body, and in areas of the brain. When cannabinoids of any kind (endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids) are introduced into this system, it activates the receptors to take action in unique ways, which in turn affects things like pain, mood, appetite, etc. If your body isn’t producing enough endocannabinoids, it can throw your ECS off balance and leave you susceptible to illness and disease. In fact, it has been suggested that all migraine sufferers have something in common: poor Endocannabinoid System function. You can supplement with phytocannabinoids from medical grade marijuana to help regain balance and promote homeostasis and healing.
The two phytocannabinoids most sought after for treating migraines are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). They are both expressed from tiny glands on the cannabis plant called trichomes. This crystalline, sticky resin is what many recreational users refer to as ‘kief.’ Because trichomes on a marijuana flower secrete high concentrations of cannabinoids like THC, many people assume that kief is solely made up of “intoxicating stuff” and offers no other benefit. While it’s true that THC can get you high (which makes it easily the most popular cannabinoid on the market), it is also extremely medicinal and works well for treating pain, especially when used in conjunction with its sister cannabinoid, CBD. A recent study from the University of Colorado showed that out of 121 participants:
When it comes to migraine headaches, cannabis could be the key, but the method of administration is important. The same study noted that inhaling cannabis was more beneficial and had much fewer side effects than ingesting it. The effects of edible medical marijuana can take up to an hour or longer, making inhalation your best bet at a quick way to knock out your migraine before it can hit too hard. Additionally, liquid oral cannabis can be dropped under the tongue, where there are hundreds of tiny capillaries ready to deliver the medicine straight to the bloodstream, making this a time-efficient administration method as well. A study presented at the European Academy of Neurology, in the summer of 2017, confirmed that not only did oral cannabis medication decrease the frequency of migraine and chronic headache sufferers (by 55%), but it also lowered the amount of attacks experienced. Later, in a separate phase of the study, researchers administered Amitriptyline (an antidepressant commonly prescribed for migraine headaches) to migraine sufferers, and Verapamil (a common headache prescription medication) to headache sufferers. What they found was that THC and CBD outperformed both pharmaceuticals. The participants were much happier with the results of cannabis oil not only for better performance, but also because cannabis had much fewer side effects compared to the pharmaceutical drugs.
THC and CBD work differently in the ECS, but they make a terrific team when combating pain. When inhaled or used orally for migraines or headaches, cannabis oil has proven itself to assist in:
Because marijuana is only recently being more widely accepted as medicine, there isn’t a lot of clinical research on using cannabis to treat migraines out there yet. What has been found, however, is looking promising for this aromatic little (or not so little) weed. You can read studies on the benefits of both THC and CBD for migraines and headaches, but it really comes down to how your body responds to the medicine. Some people tolerate (and in some cases, even require) high doses of THC to treat their symptoms, while a small percentage have reported that THC-heavy treatments have no effect, or even exacerbate their symptoms. Discuss any concerns you may have with your trusted medical provider. Ask lots of questions and listen to your body.
If you are ready to reap the benefits of cannabinoids for your migraine headaches but don’t want to risk getting high, you have a few options:
Aromatherapy and Terpenes
While most of us are busy talking about ingesting or smoking THC and CBD, there are other compounds secreted from cannabis trichomes that are not nearly as popular as cannabinoids, and they pack their own awesome benefits: terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic molecules that give marijuana buds (and other plants, fruits, and herbs) their scent, flavor, and in some cases, color. They are what give certain strains of cannabis a fruity scent and taste like blueberry, peach, and strawberry, while they give others hints of citrus, floral, or even diesel. Terpenes are a primary component of most essential oils, and they are much more than aroma. In fact, terpenes have some pretty impressive therapeutic qualities.
If you are looking to add more power to your headache treatment arsenal, look into essential oils with terpenes that contain the specific qualities you need:
Smells like: citrus
Found in: orange, lemon, and grapefruit, and certain strains of cannabis
Therapeutic benefits: anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, immune system function
Smells like: spicy, herbal, rooty
Found in: eucalyptus, lemongrass, cardamom, and certain strains of cannabis
Therapeutic benefits: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant
Smells like: spicy, woodsy
Found in: rosemary, clove, black pepper, and certain strains of cannabis
Therapeutic benefits: anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, immune system function, blood flow
Smells like: piney, woodsy
Found in: pine trees, conifers, and certain strains of cannabis
Therapeutic benefits: anti-inflammatory, healthy blood flow
While terpenes are known to be therapeutic on their own, terpenes found in cannabis are stepping into the limelight because of something scientists call “the entourage effect,” which is a term for the synergistic effect that cannabinoids and terpenes have when introduced into the human system together. Scientists and doctors believe that whole plant extracts – that is, extracting not just cannabinoids, but other molecules like terpenes – provide much more benefit than isolated cannabinoids alone. True essential oils are potent and are rarely recommended for internal use, however, the terpenes in cannabis are excellent for inhalation and oral administration.
There are many different ways to use essential oils that don’t involve eating them, and when it comes to using essential oils for headaches, take advantage of terpenes with aromatherapy. If you own a diffuser, great! If not, just sniff straight from the bottle, or make your own blend. Aromatherapy with quality essential oils has been proven to help alleviate not only the pain from headaches and migraine headaches, but other symptoms that can come with migraines such as nausea and dizziness.
What are the best essential oils for headaches and migraines?
To relieve tension and relax muscles: rosemary oil, lavender oil, chamomile oil, eucalyptus oil
To reduce inflammation: german chamomile oil, wintergreen oil, rosemary oil, clary sage oil
To ease pain: rosemary oil, lavender oil, frankincense oil, wintergreen oil
To reduce stress: peppermint oil, lavender oil, ylang ylang oil, chamomile oil, bergamot oil
To promote healthy blood flow: rosemary oil, ginger oil, clove oil, peppermint oil
It’s all in the blend: check out CBD for treating Migraines
Pressure Points and Piercings
If you’re feeling a bit wild and (relatively) committed to eliminating your migraine headaches, you may want to consider a daith piercing. You may already know that there are certain spots that acupuncturists use to help alleviate or prevent chronic migraine headaches. A daith piercing, on the innermost cartilage fold of the ear, is set to mimic and in some cases, outperform acupuncture for migraines. There has been a lot of hype over this piercing, as many people have found wild success with this method. However, clinical studies are limited, so this remedy seems to be somewhat of a shot in the dark, scientifically speaking. If you decide to give it a try, here are a few things to remember:
Acupressure is another convenient and simple way to help relieve a migraine or headache. You can do many of these anywhere (at work, on the bus, in the grocery store), and they have been found to be highly effective when performed correctly; this study concluded that self performing acupressure was effective to the point that it eliminated the need for prescription painkillers, migraine medications, and steroids for migraines. A randomized controlled trial in Taiwan concluded that acupressure outperformed muscle relaxants by a long shot in treating migraine headaches. Will it work for you? It’s definitely worth a shot. Try these:
The L14 pressure point is located on the web of the hand between the thumb and pointer finger. This is probably the most common pressure point for treating migraines and headaches. Hold this spot on your right hand firmly between the thumb and pointer finger of your left hand.
GB20 is another popular pressure point for migraine headaches. They are located on either side of the neck, in the hollow spot at the base of the skull. Apply firm pressure here with your thumbs or firmly massage with your pointer fingers, or even knuckles.
The temples and third eye are powerful pressure points for headaches. Firm pressure is not required here: use essential oils to gently stimulate these areas if you feel a headache coming on (peppermint or lavender work well).
Access the P-6 point for nausea, if needed. This pressure point can be found by placing your hand palm face up and placing your first three fingers of the other hand on your wrist, with the ring finger directly below the palm. Place your thumb right below to your pointer finger, and you should feel two large tendons under your thumb. Use your thumb to gently massage the area in a circular motion. Repeat on the other hand.
Want to get the most out of acupressure? Remember these points:
Finding an effective migraine or headache remedy may take some time and experimentation. What works for some may not work for others. Be patient and try to keep accurate records of anything you do that affects your symptoms, for better or worse. Talk to your trusted medical provider before beginning any new treatment methods, especially if you are currently taking medications. Listen to your body and trust your instincts – living with chronic pain from headaches could be a thing of the past.