New findings suggest cannabis could bring relief to those who suffer from severe, chronic headaches.
Researchers at C. Mondino National Neurological Institute in Italy have found early evidence that compounds in marijuana can ease pain during migraine attacks.
Published March 17 in the Journal of Headache and Pain, the team showed that rats given a synthetic marijuana-like drug experience less pain during experimentally-induced migraines.
“These findings suggest that the pharmacological manipulation of the CB2 receptor may represent a potential therapeutic tool for the treatment of migraine,” writes Dr. Cristina Tassorelli, the study’s lead author.
The treatment used in the study was a chemical called AM1241, which specifically targets the CB2 receptor – one of two marijuana pathways found in the human body. Compounds in marijuana, such as THC, activate both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
According to Dr. Tassorelli and her colleagues, previous studies suggest that both pathways can have pain-relieving effects.
“Indeed, it has been clearly demonstrated that CB1 receptors are involved in modulation of pain signals… Also CB2 receptors appear to contribute to the analgesic effect, as suggested by the attenuation of pain in animal models of inflammatory and nociceptive pain,” they write.
But CB2 receptors do not cause a high, the group notes, which makes them “more attractive” as potential targets for pain treatment.
Prior research suggests those who experience migraines may have a deficiency of endocannabinoids, which are a class of naturally occurring molecules that mimic the activity of marijuana’s cannabinoids.
According to Dr. Simon Akerman of the University of California, who published a study in 2013 on the role of endocannabinoids in migraines, these marijuana-like molecules may be “naturally involved with the brain’s modulation of pain mechanisms.”
But few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of cannabinoids – plant or human derived – for migraine relief, says the team from Italy. The researchers conclude that long-term studies still need to be carried out.