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Cannabis and Alternative Therapies for Headaches and Migraines: A Quick Reference

A majority of Australians will suffer from at least one headache this year. Not to mention, the 4.9 million Australians suffering from migraines. Headaches and migraines are incredibly common, with most people turning to over-the-counter medications to treat them.

But, conventional medicines don’t always do the trick. Many patients are seeking alternative therapies, including medical cannabis, for headaches and migraines.

What Are Headaches and Migraines?

A headache is pain or discomfort anywhere on the head. There are two classifications: primary and secondary. Primary headaches have a direct cause, such as dehydration or exposure to bright lights. Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition like a neck injury or common cold.

There are many types of headaches within these classifications, all with varying degrees of severity. The most common types are cluster and tension headaches. These can be felt on one or both sides of the head, and are sometimes treatable with a number of non-invasive treatments, including rest.

A migraine is a severe type of headache and is associated with symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light, and throbbing pain. Some people only get a migraine once or twice a year, while others struggle with it two or three times a week. More women than men suffer from migraines. Scientists believe that hormones likely play a role.

Symptoms of Headaches

Headaches are a painful sensation. They can be described as dull or sharp, and mild to moderate. A standard headache does not lead to nausea, vomiting, or light sensitivity.

Headaches are often described as having a slow onset and can sometimes feel like there’s a band wrapped around the head. The pain can radiate down the back of the head into the neck area. They can last from 30 minutes to several hours.

Symptoms of Migraines

Migraines are distinguished from headaches based on severity. In general, the onset of pain is quicker and much more intense than in a tension or cluster headache.

Migraines can be debilitating and include symptoms such as extreme sensitivity to light, smell and touch, nausea and vomiting, and can even distort vision.

These attacks can affect a person's daily activities, and can last from hours to even days. Migraines are a recognised serious, and sometimes chronic medical condition.

Causes of Headaches and Migraines

Of the two classifications of headaches, primary headaches are typically caused by things like dehydration, stress, prolonged screen use, caffeine withdrawal, and more.

Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition like a neck injury, sinus infection, or high blood pressure. The severity of these headaches increase each time they are experienced. It’s important to seek medical care if you believe you’re suffering from chronic secondary headaches.

When it comes to migraines, the exact cause is unknown. They include many of the same triggers as headaches but are also linked to hormonal changes. Migraines due to estrogen fluctuations are especially prevalent in women. Three times as many women than men suffer from migraines.

Both headaches and migraines have risk factors like family history, sex, and age. While there is no known cure, there are treatment plans available, including alternative therapies.

Treatments for Headaches and Migraines

Knowing what type of headache you’re suffering from is beneficial when trying to find the right type of treatment. Treatments can vary from person to person and are based on severity of pain.

Headaches are usually self-diagnosed and self-treated. Migraines can be diagnosed with the help of a medical professional. They’ll do a comprehensive evaluation to come to a conclusion and recommend a treatment plan. The most severe cases are referred to a neurologist.

Headaches and migraines can both be treated in myriad ways. While there are prescriptions available, there are also a number of non-medical therapies to choose from, too.

The most common over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine pills. However, prolonged use of OTC medication can lead to other side effects and even an increase in headaches.

Alternative therapies are growing in popularity. In Australia, these treatments include chiropractic care, hypnotherapy, relaxation exercises, and medical cannabis. A study showed an 86 percent efficacy in pain relief regarding cannabis in headaches and migraines.

Maintaining a healthy diet, getting proper rest, and staying hydrated are some of the easiest ways to avoid headaches in the first place.

Living with Headaches and Migraines

There is no known cure for headaches or migraines. Living with these conditions on a long-term basis can be difficult. However, existing treatments have proven to be effective in managing pain. These options include medical cannabis, which is currently available in Australia.

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