Using cannabis for migraine relief may backfire, can cause ‘rebound headaches’

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Marijuana enthusiasts tend to tout cannabis as a cure for a host of medical ailments. Feeling nauseous? Weed may help. Insomnia? A few tokes just might do the trick. Similarly, many individuals suffering from painful migraines have turned to marijuana for relief in recent years. Unfortunately, a new study finds marijuana for migraines may actually have the opposite effect, causing “rebound headaches.”

A rebound headache, or a medication overuse headache, refers to patients using too much pain medication while trying to treat a headache. Ironically, when this happens the medication ends up intensifying the very symptoms they normally soothe.

“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,” says study author Niushen Zhang, M.D., of Stanford University School of Medicine in a media release from the American Academy of Neurology.

“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.”

Researchers examined 368 people dealing with chronic migraines during the study. For reference, “chronic migraines” generally refers to having 15 or more headache days per month. Among that group, 150 used marijuana for pain relief while 218 did not. Over the course of more than a year, study authors observed which participants experienced rebound headaches. The team also recorded other factors including frequency of migraines, other medications participants used or overused, and average migraine lengths.

In all, 212 of the volunteers experienced a rebound headache. Notably, researchers discovered that those using marijuana were six times more likely to experience a rebound headache in comparison to those not using cannabis.

This research is set to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting.

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