Self-medicating chronic migraines with cannabis may not be the best idea - more headaches can follow

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  • Cannabis is increasingly used to treat chronic pain
  • However, a new study suggests self-medicating migraines with cannabis may have adverse effects
  • Findings indicate that cannabis may cause rebound headaches in migraine sufferers

According to a preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 73rd Annual Meeting, migraine sufferers who use cannabis for relief may suffer rebound headaches. This year, the meeting will be held virtually.

What are 'rebound headaches'?

Medication overuse headaches, which are also known as rebound headaches, are headaches that result from the excessive use of pain killers to relieve headaches. Experts describe these headaches as being a vicious cycle – when a headache in progress is treated with an excessive amount of pain-relieving medication, it ends up making the headache worse.

Assessing the effects of cannabis and other medications

The present study involved a team of researchers analysing the medical records of 368 patients who suffer from chronic migraines.

According to the International Headache Society, chronic migraine can be defined as headaches that occur 15 days or more per month (for more than three months), where on at least eight days, features of migraine headache are present.

Of the 368 participants, 150 were using cannabis, and researchers assessed which of the participants experienced medication overuse headaches.

They also considered other factors that could contribute to overuse headaches, like the frequency of migraines; excessive use of other medications that target chronic migraines; as well as how long patients had been suffering from chronic migraines.

Self-medicating with cannabis may not be the answer

“Many people with chronic migraine are already self-medicating with cannabis, and there is some evidence that cannabis can help treat other types of chronic pain,” said study author Niushen Zhang.

“However, we found that people who were using cannabis had significantly increased odds of also having medication overuse headache, or rebound headache, compared to people who were not using cannabis.”

The researchers found that when chronic migraine sufferers took opioids, their use of cannabis increased. Also, when comparing people who used cannabis to those who didn’t, the researchers found that cannabis users were six times more likely to have rebound headaches than non-users.

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