Using cannabis as a natural remedy for headaches was not exactly an immediate act on the part of modern medicine, on the contrary.
First, in 1937, it was made illegal. Then, in 1941, it was removed from the pharmacopeia as a prescription substance in the United States and Europe.
A year later, however, the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed that marijuana was more effective than ergotine, the most common drug at the time, for treating headaches...In short, there was some confusion.
Yet the use of cannabis for treating headache and migraine goes back several centuries, to exotic Persia.
Therapeutic cannabis throughout history
The first real, unequivocal description of the use of cannabis for treating headaches is that of a medieval Persian doctor of the 9th century, a period in which Arab medicine was the most evolved in circulation.
Even Santa Ildegarda, a famous 12th-century herbalist, proposed cannabis as a natural cure for headaches, wisely stating: "Those who have full brains and headaches can eat it and the pain will be reduced".
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, cannabis was increasingly introduced into official medicine and migraine became one of the most frequent reasons for it being prescribed.
Important therapy treatises of the time mention it precisely for this purpose, and famous clinicians recommend it without delay, like Edouard C. Seguin, president of the Neurological Society of New York, who stated: "...prolonged use of Cannabis Indica can cure, often alleviate, or mitigate the severity of migraine or headache".
Similar opinions are found in medical literature for decades, and again in 1915 Sir William Osler, one of the fathers of modern medicine, ruled on migraine: "Cannabis indica is probably the most satisfying remedy".
It can, therefore, be said that, for about a century, cannabis was considered as one of the best therapies for migraine, if not the best, in the Western medical literature. At that time cannabis was prescribed accompanied by total rest - a therapy used today by many migraine sufferers who, after having taken it, slip into the bed in the dark and wait for the annoying pains to pass.
Why does cannabis fight migraine?
The reason why treating yourself with cannabis works is very simple, but the general public is ignorant of the reason.
In 1992 it was discovered that the human body produces endogenous marijuana (cannabinoids produced internally by the body, called by the appropriate name of Anandamide, "bliss" in Sanskrit) for its receptors (called CB), many of which are present not only in brain but also in the rest of the human body.
In the brain, cannabinoid receptors are located in areas dedicated to nociception, the sensory process that detects and conveys the signals of pain. In particular, the receptors are in the periaqueductal grey area, held responsible for the onset of migraines.
Ethan Russo, from the University of Washington (probably the greatest authority in the world on this topic) in a study published in NeuroendocrinolyLetters, claims that migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions resistant to allopathic drug treatment, are caused by a clinical deficiency of endocannabinoids (CECD, Clinicalendocannabinoiddeficiency) in the body.
In fact, the anandamide endocannabinoids do not arrive at the brain receptors and this causes a headache. (an interesting in-depth look at the study here).
In a review published in Pain, the most important scientific journal concerning pain, the author claims that:
- Cannabis has a long history of effective and safe use in the treatment and prophylaxis of migraine.
- Cannabis appears to modulate the nociceptive processes in the brain and may interact with the serotonin pathway and other pathways involved in migraine.
- Marijuana also has recognized anti-emetic properties, useful in the treatment of migraine.
- When inhaled, cannabis acts rapidly as it by-passes intestinal absorption (markedly reduced in migraine) and can be dosed exactly to the patient's requirement.
On the basis of these premises, cannabis derivatives could represent the ideal drug for treating migraines, especially considering that therapies currently available for the treatment of migraine, sometimes causing serious side effects, are not completely effective in approximately 30% of cases.
It is therefore highly desirable that there soon be a clinical trial with the derivatives of cannabis in the fight against Migraine, rightly defined by the World Health Organisation " A disease that does not kill you but does not let you live either".
Russo E., 1998, "Cannabis for migraine treatment: the once and future prescription? A historical and scientific review.", Pubmed.gov, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9696453?dopt=Abstract
Russo E., 2008, "Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other treatment-resistant conditions?", Pubmed.gov, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18404144