Cannabis and Headache: Learn how marijuana can help treat headaches

Author Avatar

Barbara Arranz

According to various studies, cannabis is highly efficient in helping to considerably reduce episodes of headaches.

5 minutes read

Headache is the medical term used to designate “headaches”. One of the most common types of illness in the world, headache affects millions of people and can have different levels of pain as well as different causes. But did you know that cannabis can help headache sufferers? Find out how!

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, 50% of the population reports headache-related complaints over the course of a year and more than 90% say they have suffered from the disease at some point in their lives.

Another interesting fact shows that women suffer much more from the disease than men. The ratio of Headache between the sexes is 2-3 women for every man.

But what are the types of headache and how can cannabis help patients suffering from this disease? Here's what science already knows about the subject.

What are the most common types of headache?

Medicine divides headache into three most common types: tension, migraine and clusters. The origin, intensity, and duration of pain help to differentiate these types.


Tension headache is characterized as a non-pulsating headache. The patient feels the pain accompanied by a certain tightness or pressure, usually bilateral, of mild to moderate intensity and that does not worsen with physical activity.

This type of headache predominantly affects women, especially those who are in the 20-50 age group. There is a downward trend in the number of cases after this age group.

Tension headache causes the patient to feel that there is a weight on their head, which can spread to other parts of the body. Stress is pointed out as a powerful triggering or aggravating factor for this type of headache.

Tension headaches are usually treated with muscle relaxants and pain relievers, purchased from pharmacies without a prescription. when patients are able to relax and rest for a while, the tension headache also tends to stop.


Popularly known as migraine, migraine headache has a neuromuscular origin. It is responsible for most SUS consultations related to headache complaints, precisely because common analgesics often do not relieve pain, which is usually intense, pulsating and constant. Another striking feature of the disease is severe pain on only one side of the head (unilateral pain).

Migraine is characterized by causing repeated attacks of headache that can occur with a very variable frequency and in moderate or severe intensity, which can lead to a temporary limitation in carrying out activities such as working or studying. It is also common for migraine to lead to nausea, vomiting and photophobia (sensitivity to light).

According to the Brazilian Headache Society (SBCE), migraine “has as a pathophysiological mechanism a dilation of the cranial arteries, which justifies the improvement [of pain] with the adoption of procedures that reduce the supply of blood to the cephalic segment, such as foot scalding, digital compression of the external carotid artery or superficial temporal artery, application of ice to the pain site”.

Women also suffer more from migraines than men. This has a hormonal explanation, as women go through many significant hormonal changes throughout their lives.

Neurologist Elza Magalhães explains that “over the course of their lives, women go through significant changes that make their hormones fluctuate, such as menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, and that – although they can happen differently in each woman – in general, these changes interfere threshold of pain and facilitate headache attacks”.


A rarer type of headache, this disease originates in the hypothalamus (part of the brain) and can be triggered by the use of alcohol and other substances such as nitrates. It is more common in men and can trigger episodes of moderate or severe pain, leading to a momentary impossibility of carrying out routine activities.

The pains caused by cluster headache are described as stabbing or something similar to an electric shock. They come in duration of a few seconds, but repetitively and at very short intervals of time.

📌 These are the main types of headaches caused by Headache. But there are many other possible causes for headaches, often associated with other symptoms and other illnesses. If your headache is intense, occurs in a way that “comes and goes” and is causing discomfort, it is essential to see a doctor and perform imaging tests to more accurately determine the cause of the pain, as well as the treatments available.

Cannabis and Headache: How Can Marijuana Help Treat Headaches?

Studies on the action of cannabis and its cannabinoids on the brain are nothing new. Since the 1990s, the volume of scientific production on the benefits and possible risks of medical marijuana in humans has increased considerably.

The most significant milestone on the subject took place between the late 1980s and early 1990s, when scientists discovered CB1 and CB2 receptors, located in the brain and other parts of the body. These receptors are able to react positively to cannabinoids, the main natural chemical components of marijuana. This pair was named the Endocannabinoid System.

Scientists studying medical marijuana have already reported a number of findings involving sedative, antioxidant, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. The action of the plant directly on the brain helps to explain why it is so effective in treating headaches.

It is no wonder that a survey carried out in 2016 with cannabis users in the United States found that 36% of them used the plant especially for headache relief.

According to a study presented during the 3rd Annual Congress of the European Academy of Neurology, cannabis is highly effective in helping to considerably reduce headache episodes.

To reach that conclusion, the scientists analyzed the results of 127 participants. They were given different doses of a compound of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the two most abundant cannabinoids in marijuana.

In the group were people who suffered from migraine (migraine headache) or cluster headache episodes. Patients who received 200 mg of the cannabis compound daily for three months reported a 55% reduction in headache episodes.

The encouraging results of the above study caught the attention of Forbes magazine, which highlighted the study.

In another study, this time in the United States, the results were equally encouraging. Titled Short and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Headaches and Migraines, the study was published in 2019 in The Journal of Pain and analyzed a number of other research on the topic, as well as its results.

One of the researches highlighted in the study was done with laboratory rats. The results pointed out that THC "inhibits vasodilation of dural blood vessels and decreases the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide from trigeminal neurons, 2 of the many mechanisms that contribute to migraine."

Another study cited in the report was carried out with 30 headache patients who used synthetic medications to treat pain. After a period of treating these people with cannabis, the researchers noted that marijuana "was more effective than ibuprofen in reducing pain intensity, reducing intake of other pain relievers, and increasing quality of life."

While many more studies need to be conducted before science really understands how cannabinoids can treat headaches, which ones are more effective and in which cases they would not be recommended, it is encouraging to note the sequence of positive results related to the topic.

Cannabidiol for the treatment

Did you know that cannabis is linked to improved immune functioning, increased bone density and improved communication between nerve cells? Or that raw cannabis is a potent anti-inflammatory? Simply put, cannabis is a super food. Like other leafy vegetables or greens, cannabis contains naturally sourced vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Health Effects of Cannabis supported in Patient Research


To keep posted about the world of medical cannabis, follow us on Instagram and the Barbara Arranz in Linkedin!