FRIDAY, Jan. 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Marijuana may give relief to migraine sufferers, a new study suggests.
The research included 121 people diagnosed with migraines and treated with medical marijuana between January 2010 and September 2014. Overall, the patients' number of migraines fell from just over 10 to less than five per month, which is statistically and clinically significant, the researchers said.
"There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better," senior author Laura Borgelt, a professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said in a university news release.
"Like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It's important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects," she added.
While the results were "quite remarkable," much more research is needed, Borgelt said. But given current federal laws, designing a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial is not likely to happen, she said.
Patients in the study used both inhaled marijuana and edible marijuana. The researchers said inhaled marijuana seemed to be preferred for treating current headaches, and edibles seemed to be favored for headache prevention.
Just over 100 study patients said they had a decrease in their monthly migraines. Fifteen people said they had the same number of migraines, and three reported an increase in headaches, the findings showed.
"If patients are considering medical marijuana they should speak to their health care provider and then follow up so we can track the impact of their overall treatment," Borgelt said. "Open communication is necessary because we need to know how all of these treatments work together."
It's not clear exactly how marijuana might help headaches. Marijuana contains chemicals called cannabinoids, and cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body, including the brain. Cannabinoids may also affect neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that help the brain and body communicate.
"We believe serotonin plays a role in migraine headaches, but we are still working to discover the exact role of cannabinoids in this condition," Borgelt said.
The study was published online recently in the journal Pharmacotherapy.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about migraines.