Marijuana and Migraine
by Anonymous

Migraine is a severe headache lasting hours to days and often accompanied by visual disturbances or nausea and vomiting or both. Usually the attacks are recurrent. The onset typically occurs before the age of 20 and rarely after the age of 50. About 20% of the population has experienced migraine attacks. They are more common in women than in men. Drugs can be used either to cut migraine attacks short or to prevent long-term occurrence. Chemicals derived from ergot (e.g. Cafergot) are effective in stopping an attack at the early stages. Once a headache is fully established, opioids (such as Tylox) can be used to relieve the pain. A relatively new migraine drug is sumatriptan (Imitrex). In general it has fewer side effects than ergotamines but it causes frightening chest pain in many patients. Furthermore patients must learn to give themselves subcutaneous injections because sumatriptan is not very effective when taken orally. Other drugs prescribed for prevention of chronic migraine are methysergide (which is related to ergot derivatives), beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, chlorpromazine (Thorazine), and the steroid prednisone. Ten to 20% of sufferers get no relief from these drugs and many more get incomplete relief or suffer serious side effects. Cannabis was highly regarded as a treatment for migraine in the 19th century, yet the topic is almost untouched in the 20th century literature.

The contributor of the following account is a 44-year-old father of two who is currently facing trial in Maine. He is charged with "trafficking by cultivation" for growing fewer than 10 plants in the vicinity of his home which is in the woods of Maine. He prefers to remain anonymous pending the outcome of his trial.

My life has been circumscribed by an impenetrable wall of overwhelming migraine headaches, which descends upon me for weeks at a time. I can barely walk, I can hardly see, and I am no fun to be with, when the headaches strike. With the great patience and love of my family, I do my best to be a good father and husband, although my family knows well my affliction. I have had to organize my life around my headaches, which are serious enough for the Army to have declared me 4F (totally unfit) in 1971. Since I was a conscientious objector this amounted to the only blessing from an otherwise bleak picture. For years I was on a regular diet of Cafergot, a vasoconstrictor whose side effect can be gangrene of the extremities - and I took a lot of Cafergot! I would have sacrificed my extremities (including my ill-functioning head) gladly, but for the decreasing effectiveness of the drug to cure or prevent the headaches. In 1985, at the age of 32, I began a new search for a way to deal with what was clearly to be a life-long problem. With a new doctor, I began a series of trials through the pharmacopoeia. Abandoning the ergots, we tried amitriptyline, verapamil, and others - all to no avoid. I am a voracious reader. It was inevitable that my desperate interest in migraines would lead me to the 19th century researchers, many of whom found marijuana to be the safest and best aid in the treatment of migraines. Although I had been an enthusiastic marijuana smoker in my younger years, I had never associated it with relief from headaches. On the contrary, on a couple of occasions I had purchased some very low-quality marijuana and received quite a serious headache for my troubles. In fact, when headaches struck, the last thing I thought of was smoking pot. In the spirit of experimentation engendered by my doctor (yet without his knowledge), I tried smoking a large "reefer" of the best quality Maine cannabis when next my headache struck. To this day I can remember the extraordinary feeling of relief, and the good fruity-lemony taste of that smoke. Indeed, the grower became a sort of local legend.

Although I would like to say that my headaches disappeared forever, sadly this is not the case. Marijuana alone cannot control this demon. Although the specter of little daily headaches turning into big, week-long disasters is largely gone from my life, nonetheless I am still periodically stricken with debilitating series of headaches. When marijuana does not do the trick, I am prescribed Tylox, a semi-synthetic morphine. One Tylox usually does it, with a two-Tylox headache an increasing irregularity. Unlike marijuana, Tylox itself is debilitating, and on these days I am unable to work or otherwise carry out my daily tasks.

When I first started the marijuana-Tylox regimen over 10 years ago I went through a bottle of 40 Tylox in just less than a year, I smoked marijuana sporadically, and I ate aspirins by the bucketful for continuing near daily headaches which, although considerably less of a threat thanks to marijuana, were nonetheless persistent. About six years ago my family and I lived in Amsterdam for the winter on business (I am a musical instrument historian). We were taken aback by the inability to buy aspirin in Amsterdam, where apparently it is considered a dangerous drug. What I thought would be a disaster was counteracted by the availability on every block of a variety of cannabis products.

I started experimenting with smoking a bit of hash in my cigarettes on a daily basis. I found that I preferred the taste and action of a thick, black gooey hash from Turkey. I also found that even my daily headaches were no longer a problem, although our apartment acquired a perfume that was frequently commented on by visiting colleagues (with delight, others with amusement; none with derision).

On our return to America I continued daily ministrations of marijuana. Since my wife, who suffers terrible and constantly from a near-fatal car accident many years ago, has also discovered marijuana to be her greatest ally, our combined use of this herb gives us moments of calm and chances for communication in otherwise busy lives.

As far as I can tell there is a direct (inverse) relationship between the use of marijuana and the incidence of migraine headaches. For example, a bottle of 40 Tylox pills lasted one year at the beginning of these trials, and this year I have had to use three pills in the last eight months. I bought bottles of aspirin in bulk (developing an ulcer in 1987), yet today I very rarely use painkillers at all. I am still a headache person, and I have grown to live with an almost constant low-level headache, but when these grow to nuisance intensity the marijuana treatment is almost always enough.

I want to say that I am aware of the risk that every American takes when he speaks out today opposing our government’s war against so many of our own people. I want to thank Dr. Grinspoon especially for his courage, and for the help and encouragement he has given to many of us. It is an honor and a pleasure to participate in this work through offering my story.

Thank you,

Name withheld pending trial

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