Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Prevent Migraines

Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Prevent Migraines
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Prevent Migraines

Pamela Hadfield, the co-founder of HelloMD, suffered from “head-splitting” migraines that would leave her in bed for days, beginning when she was 14. She was prescribed traditional migraine medication—which didn’t always work and had unpleasant side effects, leaving her “foggy and practically comatose in bed.” Pamela finally found relief years later after trying cannabidiol (CBD) sublingual spray. That experience—and the relief she found using cannabis—was what inspired her to begin HelloMD.

Here are several lifestyle changes you can incorporate into your day—including adding cannabis to your daily routine—to help you get a handle on managing your migraines.

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Microdose with Marijuana to Keep Migraines at Bay

Taking very small amounts of cannabis is also known as microdosing and can be an effective way to medicate. CBD has been shown to relieve neurogenic pain and THC has anti-inflammatory properties—both can help reduce migraines.

Stay Hydrated to Ward Off Migraines

Getting enough water throughout the day keeps you from being dehydrated, which is a common trigger for migraines. To make sure you’re getting enough fluids, set a daily water intake goal and try to keep a water bottle nearby. Eating fruits and vegetables that are high in water content can help too. Some good choices are watermelon, strawberries, zucchini and cucumber.

Practice a New Response to Stress

It’s no secret that chronic stress and anxiety lead to tension throughout the body, so learning how to manage your mood can do a lot to help reduce migraines. Finding an outlet like physical movement (yoga, walking, stretching), meditation, listening to calming music or just having a good laugh can all help you decompress and prevent your body from responding to stress with a raging migraine.

Keep Your Sleep Routine in Check

While you’re asleep your body does most of its repair, but too much sleep can be just as much of a problem as sleeping too little. Pay attention to your sleep patterns and take note if it’s late nights with little sleep that trigger your migraines, or if it’s sleeping in for too long that makes the difference. If possible, try to avoid major changes in your sleep schedule that may disrupt your normal routine and throw off your body’s internal clock.

Get Physical to Reduce Migraine Frequency

Speaking of physical movement, studies have shown—and many migraine sufferers report—a reduction in migraine frequency with regular exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which act as a natural painkiller, stress reliever and also help improve sleep. The key is finding a physical activity you like and are more likely to stick with, whatever it is. Just be careful not to start any exercise if you’re already in the middle of a migraine episode, and avoid extremely strenuous activities as they can trigger migraines.

Avoid Foods that Are Potential Migraine Triggers

For some people, foods high in histamines, nitrates, sulfates and/or tyramine such as avocados, bananas, citrus fruits, soy, cured and processed meats, aged cheese, red wine, nuts and chocolate can trigger a migraine. It may be helpful to keep a food diary so you can pinpoint foods that coincide with your migraines. That way, you can start making some informed changes to your diet as prevention.

Hopefully, with a little bit of experimentation, you’ll find the right combination of sleep schedule, eating patterns and cannabis consumption that will help you live your best life—migraine-free.

How Does Cannabis Work to Relieve Migraines?

How Does Cannabis Work to Relieve Migraines?
How Does Cannabis Work to Relieve Migraines?

There are few physical experiences as excruciating as a migraine, which includes a throbbing headache, intense nausea and a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli like light, sounds, flavours, smells or touch. You may even experience visual distortions like bright spots of light partially blocking your range of vision.

A migraine attack can be a frightening and extremely painful experience. Roughly 9 million South Africans will experience a migraine at one point or another in their lives, this can be a debilitating condition that gets in the way of everyday life.

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In this article, part of a series for those new to cannabis, we take a look at both anecdotal and research-based evidence on cannabis’s ability to provide patients relief from these often-agonising headaches. Many patients are also finding that cannabis can prevent their painful migraines.

Jen’s Success Preventing Migraines With Cannabis

Jen is one patient who found cannabis very helpful in easing her migraines. Jen has had painful migraines since she hit puberty and believes they’re related to hormonal changes taking place during her menstrual cycle. “The [migraines] correlate with my menstrual cycle, and so typically my window for having a migraine is the week before my period, the day before and the day of,” she explains.

For years, these migraines were debilitating. She recalls the last one, saying, “I woke up in the middle of the night, and my eyes just popped open. I thought, ‘I have a headache. No!’” Jen continues, “I count the amount of times I throw up, knowing that eventually I get to a point where I start to feel relief and then I can do things.”

Still, Jen says that she can actually help prevent these headaches if she takes regular doses of cannabis edibles. “During what I would consider my trigger week, where I could be at risk of getting a headache, I essentially start taking a regular anti-inflammatory,” she says. “The [cannabis edibles] seem to be able to keep me from getting a headache.” And she adds, “There was a lot of trial and error as to what kind of strains really were effective [for me].”

While Jen’s still searching for a solution to reverse her worst headaches once they get started, she says she has fewer migraines now that she takes cannabis as a preventative measure.

Research Supports Cannabis as a Solution for Migraines

Jen is one of a growing number of people using cannabis successfully to relieve their migraines. In fact, research suggests that cannabis use can significantly reduce the amount of migraines a person experiences. In one study, 85% of patients said they had fewer migraines when they consumed cannabis, with the average number of headaches going down from 10.4 to 4.6 per month.

Cannabis’s effectiveness when it comes to easing migraine pain may be due in part to the plant’s natural pain-relieving properties. Both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have been shown to reduce pain as well as inflammation. In addition, these cannabinoids reduce the body’s natural stress response, which can actually trigger the onset of a migraine.

In addition, cannabis can help raise serotonin levels. While it’s still unclear exactly how serotonin affects migraines, low levels of serotonin are linked to the condition. Some believe that increasing serotonin levels—as is possible through the use of THC—can help ease migraine symptoms.

Using Cannabis to Treat Migraines

There are many cannabis options on the market today. Research suggests that a combination of CBD and THC can help prevent migraines, but what ratios and strains work best can vary from person to person. Some prefer a higher level of CBD to reduce the side effects of THC (such as anxiety or feeling too high). Others prefer the heightened pain relief and serotonin-boosting powers of THC, and use more of it relative to CBD.

Researchers have found that patients usually need at least a 200 mg dose of CBD and THC to stop a migraine that has already begun. This is an extremely high dose, so talk to your doctor and proceed carefully. Taking such a mega-dose may be a disorienting experience until your body builds up a tolerance to the psychoactive aspects of THC. If you’re sensitive to THC, make sure to balance it out with plenty of CBD, which reduces THC’s psychoactive effects.

Whatever you try, remember that cannabis can affect people differently, so you may need to try a few options before you find the right one for you.

In the next instalment of our Cannabis for Newbies series, we put the spotlight on consuming cannabis as a means of relieving arthritis pain and inflammation.