More than genes: 5 Triggers for Migraines and how Cannabis can Help

These are testimonies that women who suffer from migraines share with the American Migraine Foundation. But you might ask, “Why only share the words of women who suffer from migraines?” Well, because this is a condition that affects mostly women. According to recent statistics by the American Migraine Foundation, one in every five women suffers from migraines.

It is the third most prevalent illness in the world and the 6th most disabling illness in the world, according to Migraine Research Foundation. However, migraines don’t discriminate by age, gender or race. It affects one in every sixteen men and one in every eleven children in the world. In a more general view, more than 39 million Americans suffer from migraine.

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Although there is no cure, the medical community are prescribing more and more opioids to control the severe pain that comes with migraines. And we all know how addictive and dangerous these drugs can be. We are going to tell you 5 things that can trigger migraines and how cannabis can be an alternative treatment.

What is migraine?

As you will see throughout this post, migraines are more than just a headache. Although migraines begin with a headache, the pain sometimes is so severe it can trigger other symptoms. The attacks can last from 4 to 72 hours. This is why the medical community has agreed to define migraines as a “neurological disease with extremely incapacitating neurological symptoms”.

The most common symptoms can be:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities or face

Even though there are several types of migraines, the most common two can be defined by a visual phenomenon: aura.

Migraine without aura

This is the most common type of migraine. It represents between 70% and 90% of all cases. The headache is usually on one side of the head, and it is a throbbing and/or pulsating pain. This pain can be so severe that it can affect your daily life, and even produce some of the symptoms we described above. It can produce vomit and diarrhea. Also, people with migraine without aura experience light and sound sensitivity (photophobia and phonophobia).

Migraine with aura

This type of migraine comes with a neurological symptom expressed as a visual disturbance, or aura. Patients will start to experience blind and/or coloured spots. Also, sparkles or stars and flashing lights before the eyes. Sometimes, even temporary blindness. Symptoms are different from migraine without aura:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo

Additionally, there are other symptoms but not as common as the above. Some patients have reported speech and hearing impairments or even partial paralysis and fainting. All of these symptoms are experienced before the headache, or, in some cases, a headache may not even be present.

The most common belief about what causes migraines is a genetic condition. This is true, but not entirely. As we explained before, migraines affect women in a larger scale than men. It is more likely for women to experience migraines than men. But migraines can be caused by a number of physiological and environmental conditions.

5 things that can cause migraines

Food

 

Yes. We know that everytime you read something it tells you what you can or can’t eat. If you don’t suffer from migraines, it is very likely that you won’t start suffering from them if you eat these foods. However, if you are more susceptible to strong headaches, it is better to avoid this.

Aged cheeses, like blue cheese, are considered to induce migraines. It is better to avoid other types of cheese like cheddar and camembert. Also, salty and processed food can also trigger them. Try to avoid cured meat, yeast extracts and smoked fish like salmon. All of these type of foods contain a substance called tyramine. This is a chemical substance found naturally in some foods.

Another important thing to have in mind is eating on schedule. Altering with your regular meal time can trigger attacks.

Alcohol and… ¿coffee?

Beer and wine can be triggers. Beer, for example, has a lot of tyramine. However, bottled beer tends to have 25 times less tyramine than beer from a beer tap. So if you love beer and don’t want to miss it, when you go to the bar order in bottle. There is also a belief that red wine can also induce migraine attacks. But there is not scientific proof of it. When it comes to alcohol, it is better to keep it to a minimum. Although there is no study to prove it, large amounts of alcohol will definitely give you a headache. And if you suffer from migraines, the result in the morning after a night out can be devastating.

And when it comes to coffee, there is much debate. Some say that coffee triggers a migraine attack, while others say that caffeine can help in head pain relief. The truth is… you are the only one who knows. If you are a regular coffee drinker, skipping your morning cup can induce headaches, and consequently escalate to a migraine attack. But too much caffeine can clearly produce headaches. It’s up to you to keep your coffee intake in a moderate level.

Hormonal Changes

Women are more likely to have migraine attacks during menstruation. This is due to hormonal changes. Women who have a history of migraine attacks tend to experience them before or during their periods, when there is a radical hormonal change. Because of this, other women can also experience severe headaches during pregnancy or menopause.

Medication or treatments that induce change in hormone levels can also trigger migraines. Women who take birth control pills or hormonal therapy might have an increase in their headaches. So if you suffer from migraines, it would be better to talk to your doctor for a different treatment to avoid an increase in headaches. Yoga and meditation help you sleep better, and also will be a great thing for migraines because a change in your sleep pattern might also trigger attacks.

Emotional triggers

Throughout this blog we have explained how important it is to keep your body and mind in a healthy state. A clear mind can be the greatest treatment and it can prevent a lot of illnesses people suffer from everyday. And migraines are no exception. Stress migraines, although it’s not a recognized by the International Headache Society, is one of the most common types.

Stress and anxiety can trigger migraines because of chemical reactions in your brain. When you are stress or suffering from anxiety, you can experience a “fight or flight” response. This might create tension and fear which make migraines even worse. If you suffer from migraines, try anti-stress activities like yoga or meditation.

Environmental triggers

There are some environmental and physical conditions that can induce migraines. It appears that people who suffer from this condition have very sensible senses. We explained before that one of the symptoms can be sensitivity to light and sound (photophobia and phonophobia). If you suffer from migraines, exposure to very bright lights, or extreme changes in light intensity can trigger a headache. It works the same way with loud, sudden noises and strong smells.

Could cannabis be a treatment for migraines?

Migraines affect your day to day life. The testimonies at the beginning of this post portray how severe this condition can be. And because the normal prescription for migraines are opioids, people have decided to cast them away and look towards cannabis. Because of its analgesic properties, cannabis is becoming very popular to treat the severe pain that comes with migraines. But, as it happens with cannabis, there is more anecdotal than scientific evidence to support this. But this is the starting point.

According to cannabis expert Ethan Russo, the increase of cannabis as a migraine treatment is something that the medical community should investigate in a much deeper level: “collective evidence supports the proposition that experimental protocols of cannabis usage in migraine treatment should go forward employing modern controlled clinical trials”.

Last year, a study titled The Use of Cannabis for Headache Disorders reviewed the evidence of cannabis as a treatment for headache disorders, migraines included. Researchers arrived at the same conclusion as Russo: there is sufficient anecdotal evidence and preliminary results, but clinical trials are needed to see how far cannabinoids can go as a treatment for migraines. “Such trials are needed to determine short- and long-term efficacy for specific headache types, compatibility with existing treatments, optimal administration practices, as well as potential risks”.

But this can take a while. In the meantime, try following the 5 tips we gave you above. Avoid food with high levels of tyramine, such as blue cheese and some types of beer. Avoid strong light, smells and sounds. And, most importantly, start doing anti-stress activities such as yoga or meditation.

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