Migraines & Weed, 5 Tips for Getting Relief + How CBD & THC Help with Symptoms

Episode 73

Show Notes

Pain relief for migraines with cannabis.

Migraines affect nearly 40 million Americans, and women are 3x more likely than men to experience them. On today’s episode, we’ll hear one woman’s story of finding cannabis as a treatment for daily migraines and hear from medical experts who explain what migraines are, what combination of CBD and THC helps most with migraines, and why cannabis is showing promise for patients. 

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Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:00):

This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.

Lisa Curiel Parker (00:05):

When you’re suffering chronic pain, you also get lost, and you think, “Is this ever going to end? Is this my norm moving forward?” And then once cannabis is involved, it just changes everything and you feel so great. You just realize, okay, this chronic pain isn’t forever.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:23):

Welcome back to How to Do the Pot. I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard from Lisa Curiel Parker, a California-based migraine sufferer who found relief with cannabis. Migraines affect nearly 40 million Americans, and the vast majority are women. Today we’ll hear Lisa’s story of finding cannabis as a treatment and hear from two of our favorite medical experts, Dr. June Chin and Sandra Guynes, who is also known as The Kush Nurse. They’ll explain what migraines are, what combination of CBD and THC helps most with migraines, and why cannabis is showing promise for patients. I’ve only had two migraines in my life when I was a kid, and I still remember them vividly. It’s hard to imagine having them every day or every week, like Lisa and a lot of other women we hear from.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:12):

We talked about the connections between cannabis, migraines and sleep on episode six of How to Do the Pot, so check that out to learn more. And please reach out if you want to share your story or tell us how cannabis has worked for your migraines. Do you get How to Do the Pot’s newsletter? You can sign up at dothepot.com, and please follow along on all our socials. And as always, if you like How to Do the Pot, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:45):

Lisa Curiel Parker is the senior marketing and communications manager at the California cannabis brand Humboldt Farms. She has been having migraines since she was a child, and they started after a significant death in her family.

Lisa Curiel Parker (01:58):

The stress and the trauma from the incident caused my left ventricle to enlarge, and so doctors gave me antidepressants, steroids, and sleeping aids and told me to drink little mini Coca-Cola cans daily. And I thought, I’m 11 years old. I do not want to be on these pills. I don’t want to drink a Coke can. I don’t think that’s a solution to migraines and also a physical enlargement of my brain. So after about three months, I was in a totally foggy state. It was so hard, but I didn’t go to school for a year during that time because I couldn’t function every day. I couldn’t go to class and I couldn’t really socialize. I just learned that early on, but unfortunately there wasn’t many other solutions. Some people would say water. Drink more water. Exercise more. Acupuncture was another solution I tried for a little bit, but because it’s been such a constant in my life, I find other ways to kind of remedy them with meditation and yoga and just calming the mind.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (03:10):

Dr. Chin explains what migraines are.

Dr. June Chin (03:13):

Migraine is a neurological condition, and it can cause multiple symptoms. You can have intense, debilitating headaches, but also following the headaches, nausea. Some of my patients will vomit. Some of my patients have difficulty speaking or numbness and tingling on their face. Some patients that have newly onset migraines think they’re having a stroke because there’s this numbness and tingling in the face, and they lose the sensitivity. Some patients have the inability to even come across a new light or sound when they have migraines, and that usually runs in families. So I always ask, “Did your mom have migraines? Grandma, aunties, uncles?” It usually affects all ages.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (03:53):

Migraines run in Lisa’s family.

Dr. June Chin (03:56):

It’s my dad’s side of the family, so it’s the Polish side. My mom’s side is perfectly fine and doesn’t have migraines, but my father has them, and then my grandma. And I don’t know if I can correlate it with depression because at that point in my family, it wasn’t something that was communicated about. But I can only assume that’s what it was correlated with and kind of passed along.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (04:22):

What causes migraines? Sandra Guynes, The Kush Nurse, has some insight.

Sandra Guynes (04:27):

We don’t really understand what causes migraines. There’s thoughts that it has to do with imbalances in serotonin. It can be inflammation in other parts of the body that affect the trigeminal nerve, which is connected to your pain pathways, so it causes more intense pain.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (04:44):

If you hear about migraines, mostly in women, there’s a reason Dr. Chin and Sandra Guynes explain why.

Dr. June Chin (04:51):

Women suffer from migraines three times as often as our male counterparts, and it’s because of estrogen. Our fluctuating estrogen levels really contribute to chronic headaches or migraines.

Sandra Guynes (05:04):

39 million Americans suffer from migraines, and 28 million are women. With women, we tend to have more episodic pain. So it’s like during my cycle, I may have these days where it’s like, oh, I have a migraine. And then it goes away. It tends to mostly be around the hormonal shifts, the stress, the anxiety, and then any other autoimmune conditions that are going on at the same time can also trigger those migraines.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (05:31):

Since she was a child, lisa has had daily migraines, and her symptoms vary.

Lisa Curiel Parker (05:37):

My most common is just the front pressure pain, and it’s a daily occurrence. And I think just having it for so long, I’ve learned to just kind of power through. But I do about once a month, get those horrible aura feelings that people describe, where it’s just kind of a blinding light. You get so sensitive to light and sound, and you just kind of want to be in a calm room for a while.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (06:01):

Lisa kind of stumbled her way onto cannabis as a treatment.

Lisa Curiel Parker (06:04):

I was in grad school, and to be honest, was drinking way too much wine every night to go to sleep. And so I just thought, I’m going to try smoking weed. I don’t want to combine the two, and I just want to wean off this alcohol habit in my mid-twenties. And realized that there’s so many different strains. And the more I experimented with each strain and the more I smoked and consumed and realized how effective it was in different ways, that’s kind of how I found the solution. It was more natural, and to be honest, it was for more recreational purposes. My maternal grandmother was a [foreign language 00:06:45] in Mexico. That’s pretty much a plant healer, so I thought it just makes sense. It’s a plant, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t use it.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (06:55):

On episode 67, Dr. Chin and Sandra Guynes shared their expertise about cannabis and drug interactions, so please listen to that if you’re taking pharmaceuticals for migraines. Sandra sees a lot of patients who consume cannabis for migraines. How does it help them?

Sandra Guynes (07:10):

One of the biggest things with migraines is knowing what your individual triggers are. For some people, it can be lights. It can be sounds. It can be sensory. For some people, it can be hormonal. So it’s knowing what those are, and I always say, “Let’s prepare for that.”

Sandra Guynes (07:25):

Migraines affect people very differently. I had migraines when I hurt my shoulder. That was a specific kind of migraine. It was more like a tension headache. It would start at the bottom of the neck and go up to the top of the head. And I found that cannabis was helpful depending on the strains. Too much THC at times could cause it to be more painful. There are these excitatory nerves in our head that when you give it too much THC, it can fire more, and those can cause more pain in some people. It’s exciting those nerves.

Sandra Guynes (08:00):

Some people find relief from sativa for migraine, but usually that is not the norm. Usually something like indica that can relax and turn down those receptors is really what can help with that the most. So does it help with migraines? Yes and no. But a lot of times what it can help with is the inflammatory response that’s causing the migraine. It can also help with the triggers. Like is it stress related? You know, to keeping your body more in balance. And then also for some people who suffer with migraines, they can have seizures. They can have nausea. We know that cannabis helps with those as well.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (08:40):

Dr. Chin also helps her patients try to prevent migraines.

Dr. June Chin (08:44):

If you take CBD regularly, it’s an anti-inflammatory, and migraine is a neurological condition based on chronic inflammation. So you have to take it preventatively. You actually have to take it when you don’t have migraines. If you have an acute migraine coming on … And my patients know, it could be the humidity in the air. It could be that they slept wrong the night before. You can just feel it in your bones that you’re getting a migraine, and that’s when you have to take extra cannabis.

Dr. June Chin (09:14):

And what the cannabis does, it decreases the frequency, the intensity, and it turns the volume down on the migraine. So instead of being debilitated for three days, if you take it preventatively or early enough, you might be able to head it off and just need six, seven hours of downtime. It really depends on the patient. You have to experiment. I have patients that need a lot of THC when migraines come on, but I have certain patients that if they over-consume the THC, they get a rebound headache and it makes it worse. And they can even feel like there’s tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. So it really, really depends. You have to just experiment and try to keep a migraine journal and see what works for you.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (09:53):

When you smoke or inhale cannabis, the effects come on quickly, between five to 15 minutes. It’s the consumption method that migraine sufferers find work best for them.

Sandra Guynes (10:03):

The studies show that inhalation is actually the best method for treating migraine headaches. And that’s probably because by the time you take something orally, you have to wait for it to metabolize. The effects are a little bit different. And when you’re inhaling, you’re getting not only the smell, and our sense of smell is connected to our brain, which instantly helps with that pain relief, but also because it’s going right into the bloodstream and getting into those cells and getting oxygen into those cells.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (10:33):

Lisa agrees.

Lisa Curiel Parker (10:35):

It’s mostly inhalables that have been the most consistent in alleviating pain and getting rid of that aura and getting rid of that tension. It just alleviates it right away. Edibles have also been efficient, but it takes a little more time. And that took a little more experimentation, kind of the CBD-to-THC ratio and just understanding what worked best with my brain because some days if I had a type of edible, I would kind of get that brain fog the next day. I call it the edible or weed hangover. Mostly smoking flower, pre-rolls. Concentrates have worked, but I find that it’s more of a short-lived pain relief and more of a short-lived high in my personal experience. So flower just seems to be a consistent tool and remedy for the pain.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (11:26):

What strains work best for Lisa’s symptoms?

Lisa Curiel Parker (11:29):

For migraines, I am a huge proponent of CBD. So Harle-Tsu, which is a heavy CBD strain. It’s really hard to find. I think it’s like 0.5% THC, and it ranges from 12 to 15% CBD. It gets rid of my migraines right away. ACDC is another great CBD strain, any of the tsunamis. But if I want to get kind of heady and fun, I love Headband. That always is a fun, euphoric head high where I can just feel like I’m on clouds with that one. Other than that, I’m pretty old school, like Jack Herer, White Widow. And it really depends day to day.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (12:09):

How does Lisa feel after taking cannabis medicine?

Lisa Curiel Parker (12:12):

Oh my God. It is euphoric. It’s not even a heady high. It’s feels like a deep massage in your head, like someone’s massaging your head with both hands and someone’s giving you a back rub where all tension in your body just releases. It is the most wonderful sense of relief. That’s what I also try to tell people, and some people look at me sideways. But we have an endocannabinoid system, and so of course there are certain cannabinoids that are just going to fit in your body so well, like a puzzle piece.

Lisa Curiel Parker (12:44):

Over time, it has alleviated the occurrence of the migraines because when I was younger, the severe migraines were every day. Today, they’re a lot minor, and they’re not that horrible, light sensitive and sound sensitive migraine that I had as a kid. But today I kind of view CBD, yes, as a vitamin, but also in conjunction with a lot of other self-help. I’ve done therapy heavily, more now, and that’s been a huge lift off of migraines. It’s really just a lot of diet and fitness. But CBD has definitely … Everything changed in my life after that.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (13:27):

When you’re choosing a cannabis strain, many dispensaries classify them as sativa, indica and hybrid. But growers will tell you that those conventions don’t always match your expectations. A better way to find the right strain for your body is to consider the turpenes, which give plants their taste and smell. It’s why we always recommend you smell the weed if you can. Your nose knows. We’ve said that a lot. And for more on turpenes, check out episode 25 of How to Do the Pot.

Lisa Curiel Parker (13:55):

Each strain in the legal cannabis market has a certificate of analysis, and that’ll tell you the high testing turpenes. It’ll tell you all the dominant cannabinoids in it. So I started reading those more and more and just trying to understand what I was most attracted to. I love the pinene in this strain or the limonene, and just would realize I love going outside near pine trees, so of course I’m being drawn towards pinene. I love the smell of citrus and lemons and oranges. Of course I’m going to like limonene. So it was a lot of that, just kind of self-reflection of what I enjoyed taste-wise and smell-wise.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (14:38):

For today’s High Five, treating migraines with cannabis. Number one, studies are promising. According to a 2021 study from UC Boulder, migraine sufferers who’ve used both cannabis and prescription treatments for their migraines reported significantly more relief from cannabis than from prescription medications like triptans.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (15:00):

Number two, start with CBD. Taking daily CBD preventatively has shown to help dial down the intensity of migraines by lowering inflammation and helping with stress and sleep related symptoms.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (15:13):

Number three, find your consumption method. CBD can be taken in an oil tincture, and that has a 15 to 30 minute onset time. Gel caplets or edibles can help with pain and getting to sleep, but have a one to two hour onset time. Inhalation or smoking seems to bring the fastest relief to migraine patients. If you’re using a vape pen or a drier vaporizer that allows you to control the burn temperature, Dr. Chin recommends setting it to 390 degrees.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (15:43):

Number four, be willing to experiment. Some patients get relief from high CBD strains and some prefer high THC, often the strains that help them get to sleep. When you’re buying weed, try to smell it or tell the bud tender how you want to feel rather than rely solely on indica, sativa and hybrid classifications.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (16:05):

Number five, keep a migraine journal. Are your migraines related to your menstrual cycle, or do they seem to have other triggers? What other symptoms do you experience regularly? What are you taking and what are the effects? If you try cannabis, keep track of the strains and how they made you feel.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (16:22):

Today’s strain rec is one of Lisa’s favorites, ACDC. ACDC is a high CBD strain. It’s actually generally a 20-to-one CBD strain, which means there’s 20 times more CBD than THC. So you will not feel intoxicated from this strain. ACDC promotes feelings of contentment and improves your mood, reduces pain and brings on a relaxed outlook. It works really well for women struggling with stress and anxiety. In California, I found ACDC in tincture form from brands like Chemistry and Om Edibles. And it’s usually listed as a hybrid at dispensaries.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (17:00):

For today’s Podcast Picks, I like A Thing or Two with Claire and Erica, hosted by Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo, deep diving into post pandemic dressing and a kombucha who’s who, and a How to Do the Pot recommendation, The Cannabis Enigma, hosted by Varda Bachrach. Dr. Roni Sharon talks about treating migraines with medical cannabis.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (17:25):

Thank you for listening to How to Do the Pot. For lots more information and past episodes, visit us at dothepot.com. Thanks to Madi Fair, our brand manager, and our producer, Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon, and we’ll be back soon with more of How to Do the Pot.



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