Posts Tagged "migraine treatments"


Last updated on April 10th, 2021 at 05:00 am

WHEN TO SEE A HEADACHE SPECIALIST AND HOW TO PREPARE TO GET THE MOST FROM THE APPOINTMENT.

@Neuralgroover

 

Background

I see patients in our headache center from all over the United States and from many other countries. Many patients travel hundreds of miles by car or airplane for these visits, due to the shortage of available headache specialists (about 570 in the US). Many patients are lucky enough to be relatively close to a headache specialist. Whichever scenario you fall into, you want to get the most out of your appointment with a headache specialist in order to get on a better path to less headache or facial pain burden.

 

When to see a headache specialist

So first of all, when should you see a headache specialist? First off, any type of headache, head pain, or facial pain, is reason enough to see a headache specialist. Basically, headache specialists specialize in any type of pain or discomfort involving anywhere in the head or face. They also commonly see patients that may have other neurological symptoms which may not necessarily be associated with headaches, but their doctor wants to rule out a migraine “equivalent” disorder. Some patients can have neurologic symptoms without headache (visual, sensory, speech, vertigo, weakness, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain), which may actually reflect a painless migraine disorder, such as migraine aura without headache. I have compiled a list below of a few of my thoughts of when your headache or facial pain treatment journey signals that it is time to see a headache specialist.

 

Reasons to see a headache specialist:

-You have a headache, head pain, or facial pain.

-Your doctor tells you, “your headache is all in your head”.

-Your doctor tells you, “there’s nothing else I can do for you”.

-Your doctor says, “I don’t treat much headache, but…”.

-You continue to have frequent headaches despite trying several preventive medications.

-You just don’t feel like you are making any progress despite a couple office visits with your doctor or their NP or PA (or you never even get to see the doctor).

-You don’t feel like your doctor is listening to you or taking your symptoms seriously.

-The doctor spends only a few minutes in the visit, so you feel rushed and unable to discuss all of your concerns.

-Your doctor is googling your symptoms in the office.

-Your doctor recommends that you take opiates/opioids for migraine treatment.

-Your doctor says it is ok to use NSAIDs, OTCs or triptans more than 10 days per month or butalbital/fioricet/fiorinal more than 5 days per month on average for migraine treatment.

-Your doctor says your headache is “because you are depressed”.

-Your doctor does not give you a more specific classification or name for your diagnosis.

 

What information should you gather before the visit?

Unfortunately, we all know how strapped for time most physicians are during office visits due to a variety of factors such as low insurance reimbursement and the need to increase patient volume to compensate for this and break even. So to get the most out of your office visit, making it efficient and helpful, it is important to compile certain information in preparation. Typing out this information and bringing it to your office visit is a great idea. It is also a great idea to keep this as a running file that you can continue adding to in your personal files. This helps to eliminate time wasted in the office that could easily be organized and thought through prior to the visit, allowing more time for the important parts of the office visit; optimizing the diagnosis and treatment plans. Some of this information you may not have available, and that is certainly ok. You may be able to retrieve some of it from records, memory, and your local pharmacist.

Never assume that your local doctor’s office has faxed all of your records ahead of the visit. If that happens, great. However, many times patients are told that the records will be sent, but when we see the patient, we have no records that were sent. So, it is always best to bring all of your records yourself. Furthermore, it is good to have copies of all of your medical records, testing, etc. for your personal files anyway.

 

The following list are items that I have found to be the most useful for patients to have gathered and thought of prior to the visit, allowing the most efficient and useful office visit:

A) Acute/abortive headache or pain treatments (used “as needed”). This information is also needed in order to pursue insurance approvals for various types of treatments such as the newer gepants (Ubrelvy, Nurtec) or ditans (Reyvow).

-All that have been tried (which triptans, NSAIDs, neuromodulation devices, etc.)

-Doses used

-Responses (effectiveness, side effects) of each treatment

 

B) Preventive headache or pain treatments (used daily to lessen headache frequency/severity). This information is also needed in order to pursue insurance approvals for various treatments such as Botox or the CGRP mAb antagonists (Aimovig, Ajovy, Emgality, Vyepti).

-All that have been tried

-Maximum doses used

-Duration that each treatment was used

-Responses (effectiveness, side effects) of each treatment

 

C) Testing

-All CD and radiology reports for all brain MRIs, CTs, and other relevant testing for your headache or pain. Most CDs do not include the radiology report, and you need to request that separately. It is a good idea to have copies of all of these things for your personal files regardless. Bring them all to the office visit for the doctor to review.

-All bloodwork done in the past 5 years. Labs particularly important for headache evaluations include TSH, CBC, CMP, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, ESR, CRP, ANA, to name a few, but this may vary and include more or less, depending on the specific clinical scenario.

 

D) Think about the clinical features of your headache or facial pain as listed below. These will be important questions that your headache specialist will ask. So, it is good to answer these questions in your head prior to the visit, so you can provide more accurate and thought out answers. This helps to prevent being put on the spot by questions you never really thought about which may result in forgetting some important details. For a free headache and facial pain self-diagnosis tool which incorporates all of these important questions that a headache specialist asks, look here.

-Location of the headache or facial pain

-Frequency of the headache or facial pain attacks

-Duration of the headache or facial pain attacks

-Description and characterization of the headache or facial pain attacks

-Neurological symptoms associated with the headache or facial pain (visual disturbances, numbness, tingling, weakness, speech disturbances, vertigo, etc.)

-Other associated symptoms with the headache or facial pain (nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, one sided autonomic features (runny eye, red eye, runny or congested nose, droopy or puffiness around eye))

 

Conclusions:

If you are able to gather all or much of the above listed information prior to your headache specialist appointment, you’ll be well on your way to a much more efficient and beneficial office visit. As a result, you and your doctor will be able spend more time in the office discussing the most important things rather than spending it trying to look up records or digging through your memory for various details. As a result, your doctor will have more time to better formulate a list of the most likely diagnoses, and best treatment approaches for minimizing the disruption of your headache or facial pain on your life. Good luck!!

 

IF YOU HAVE HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN AND ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS ON ANYTHING RELATED TO IT, A HEADACHE SPECIALIST IS HERE TO HELP, FOR FREE!

FIRST, LET’S DECIDE WHERE TO START:

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION, HOT TOPICS, AND TREATMENT TIPS, VISIT OUR FREE BLOG OF HOT TOPICS AND HEADACHE TIPS HERE. THIS IS WHERE I WRITE AND CONDENSE A BROAD VARIETY OF COMMON AND COMPLEX  MIGRAINE AND HEADACHE RELATED TOPICS INTO THE IMPORTANT FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS YOU NEED TO KNOW, ALONG WITH PROVIDING FIRST HAND CLINICAL EXPERIENCE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A HEADACHE SPECIALIST.

 

IF YOU DON’T HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR POSSIBLE TYPES OF HEADACHES OR FACIAL PAINS BASED ON YOUR SYMPTOMS, USE THE FREE HEADACHE AND FACIAL PAIN SYMPTOM CHECKER TOOL DEVELOPED BY A HEADACHE SPECIALIST NEUROLOGIST HERE!

 

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR FURTHER EDUCATION AND SELF-RESEARCH ON YOUR DIAGNOSIS, VISIT OUR FREE EDUCATION CENTER HERE.

 

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING TO ASK QUESTIONS TO A HEADACHE SPECIALIST OR OTHER HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, AND FACIAL PAIN WEBSITE MEMBERS, VISIT OUR FREE DISCUSSION FORUMS HERE.

 

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Last updated on April 9th, 2021 at 12:50 am

AIMOVIG vs AJOVY vs EMGALITY vs VYEPTI. BATTLE OF THE CGRP MONOCLONAL ANTIBODY ANTAGONISTS; WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES AND WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU?
@Neuralgroover

Background

Aimovig vs. Ajovy, Aimovig vs. Emgality, Aimovig vs Vyepti, Ajovy vs. Emgality, Emgality vs. Vyepti, Ajovy vs. Vyepti. So many questions. so many answers. Let’s discuss them all. So it finally happened! The 1st migraine specific preventive medications FINALLY became available with the CGRP (calcitonin gene related peptide) monoclonal antibody (CGRP mAb) antagonists which first came to market in 2018. Prior to 2018, all of the migraine preventive medication options had been “adopted” from other specialties. For example, the 3 main categories of preventive medicines prior to 2018 were select evidence-based options within the anticonvulsant (antiseizure), antidepressant/antianxiety, and antihypertensive (blood pressure) medicine categories. These conventional migraine preventive treatments are certainly still used, can be very effective, and are discussed in much greater detail here. Migraine preventive therapies also include nutraceuticals and natural treatments, and neuromodulatory devices. This blog article will discuss and compare the 4 new options of CGRP mAb medications; Aimovig (Erenumab), Ajovy (Fremanezumab), Emgality (Galcanezumab), and Vyepti (Eptinezumab).

CGRP plays a strong role in neurogenic inflammation in the nervous system and is involved in the transmission of pain. It is also a potent vasodilator (dilates blood vessels), and increases overexcitability of neurons, both factors of which increase the intensity of migraine pain. CGRP has been studied since the early 1980s when it was discovered. It was found throughout the trigeminovascular system and trigeminal cranial nerves which transmit pain, so a role in migraine was suspected. The trigeminal nerves and their associated electrical circuitry throughout the brain, brainstem, and arteries in the brain is called the trigeminovascular system. This system is the basis and “on switch” for migraine. In the early 1990s it was shown that CGRP was released by the trigeminal nerves and levels increased during an acute migraine attack. In 2004, a CGRP antagonist (blocks the binding of CGRP to its receptor) was shown to abort an acute migraine attack, and decrease CGRP levels. Subsequent studies including preventive migraine studies done since 2014 with a CGRP antibody to block the effects of CGRP eventually led to 3 FDA approved CGRP mAbs in 2018, and a 4th CGRP mAb FDA approved in 2020.

 

How are the CGRP mAbs made and what is the science behind them?

The CGRP mAbs are considered biologic drugs because they are made by the cells of living organisms. This is in contrast to conventional medications made by chemical synthesis. The 4 CGRP mAbs are all classified as “humanized” monoclonal antibodies. Humanized CGRP mAbs are made in a laboratory by combining part of a human antibody with a small part of a non-human (such as hamster or yeast) monoclonal antibody by a process called recombinant DNA technology. The non-human part of the antibody binds to the target antigen (in this case, either the CGRP ligand (protein) or CGRP receptor), and the human part makes it less likely to be seen as a “foreign antigen” destroyed by our immune system. To explain further, these humanized CGRP mAbs are produced and cloned repeatedly in non-human immune system living cells (hamster ovarian cells or yeast cells), ensuring that they are all of identical genetic material (monoclonal), and their protein structure is modified to increase their similarity to antibody structures produced naturally in humans.

As a review, antibodies are proteins made by living organism cells which bind unique parts of other proteins that are recognized as a “foreign” to that biologic system. For example, when your body is exposed to a virus or bacteria by infection or immunization, your body makes specific antibodies against that microbe to destroy it. If your body encounters that microbe in the future, it remembers it (immune response), and your antibodies attach to it to neutralize and destroy it.

 

How do the CGRP mAbs work for migraine?

The CGRP mAbs target either the CGRP receptor and block it (antagonist) to prevent the CGRP ligand (protein) from binding, or they target the CGRP ligand itself and prevent it from binding (sticking) to the CGRP receptor. Clinically, some patients tend to respond better to the CGRP receptor blockade, whereas others tend to do better with binding the CGRP ligand itself. There is not really any data on this in terms of who may respond to which type of CGRP mAb target, but I’m sure it will be studied further eventually. In general, the CGRP mAbs tend to all be quite effective. However, the point is if one type of CGRP mAb doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean the others won’t work either. I have seen many patients who did not respond to one type of CGRP mAb, but responded dramatically well to another. So, if you do not respond to one type of CGRP mAb target (such as the CGRP receptor), it may be worth trying another type of CGRP mAb target (such as the CGRP ligand). The bottom-line is don’t lose hope if one type doesn’t work well for you!

The CGRP mAbs are administered by injection or infusion because oral absorption is poor and degradation in the gastrointestinal system would inactivate the antibodies before they would even be able to enter the circulatory system. They are systemically absorbed by transport through the lymphatic system and into the blood. Metabolism occurs in the reticuloendothelial system, not the liver or kidneys.

 

How effective are the CGRP mAbs?

All 4 of the CGRP mAbs have shown excellent tolerability, safety, and superior effectiveness in migraine prevention when compared to placebo. Compared to oral preventive therapies which have been the mainstay for decades (discussed here), the CGRP mAbs work much faster and do not require a slow dose titration, as is done with most oral preventives. They are sometimes seen to be effective in just a few days, often within a month, and the data suggests that the longer a patient is on a CGRP mAb, the more effective it is. I typically recommend a minimum of at least 3 months, and if receiving some benefit at that point, at least 6 months is suggested.

The majority of CGRP mAb studies had at least 50% (half) of patients who were 50% responders (migraine days cut in half), which is great! In general, the CGRP mAbs provide an overall average net reduction of around 2 migraine days per month for episodic migraine and 4-6 days for chronic migraine. With that said, this number can be much higher depending on the patient and migraine characteristics being studied, such as baseline migraine frequency.

There are a group of patients that we see called “super responders” because they improve dramatically to having greater than 75% decrease in migraine days, and sometimes even no migraines. In the CGRP mAb studies, about 1/3rd of patients were “super responders”, with many them obtaining 100% reduction in migraine days. Although this is wonderful to see when it happens, it should not be the expectation or goal (nor should this be the goal with any preventive migraine treatment).

 

What are the CGRP mAb side effects and are they safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Side effects are minimal, and very similar to placebo in most of the studies, which is great compared to the frequent side effects seen with most of the oral preventive pills we often use. The most common side effects are listed in the table below, but mild injection site reactions tend to be the most common reported side effect among the 3 subcutaneous self-injection CGRP mAbs. Cumulative data show no immunological (they do not suppress or alter the immune system because they do not have a target within the immune system), cardiovascular, or neurological safety concerns of significance. CGRP is suspected to play a possible role in regulating uteroplacental blood flow, myometrial and uterine relaxation, and in maintaining normal gestational blood pressure. Since the mAbs have a long half-life and can last in the system for 5 months, it is recommended to stop it about 6 months prior to pregnancy planning. The CGRP mAbs are also not recommended to use during breast-feeding since we do not have enough safety data at this time.

 

Can I still use my CGRP monoclonal antibody treatment (Aimovig, Ajovy, Emgality, Vyepti) with the Covid-19 vaccine? 

The short answer is that we need to gather more data on this, so check back periodically for updates. However, this hasn’t been a reported issue thus far. There is no current evidence for an interaction between the Covid-19 vaccine and CGRP mAbs, the same as any other vaccine. This has also been stated by the American Migraine Foundation. Patients receiving CGRP monoclonal antibodies (Aimovig, Ajovy, Emgality, Vyepti) were not excluded from the Covid-19 vaccine trials. There is no evidence at this time that these treatments can not be used along with receiving Covid-19 vaccination, nor do they need to be delayed or timed any differently in relation to receiving Covid-19 vaccination. Most physicians feel that there should theoretically be no interaction or contraindication to receiving either of these treatments in relation to Covid-19 vaccination because they are entirely different proteins with different mechanisms of action. The Covid-19 vaccine stimulates the immune system to form antibodies against the virus, should you encounter it. The CGRP mAbs do not have any significant influence on the immune system (they do not cause immunosuppression, etc.). Rarely, the immune system of some patients can form neutralizing antibodies against the CGRP mAbs, and this can weaken the effectiveness of these treatments in their ability to decrease migraine frequency and severity. However, this rarity really has nothing to do with the mechanism and how the Covid-19 vaccine works. So, it is not felt that the Covid-19 vaccine will lessen the effectiveness of these treatments, nor will these treatments lessen the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Notably, there have been just a few isolated reports of dermal fillers used in dermatology causing some facial swelling in association with Covid-19 vaccination, but not with Botox or the CGRP mAbs. These reports were with the Moderna Covid vaccine and resolved with steroids and/or antihistamines. The topic of Covid-19 headache, Covid-19 vaccination, and the use of Botox is discussed further here.

 

Can I use a CGRP mAb with Botox injections or with the gepants (Nurtec, Ubrelvy)?

Insurance companies often present various hurdles to using preferred treatment options (the bane of my existence). One common issue for patients with chronic migraine who are receiving Botox injections is that most insurance companies will now make the patient choose between Botox or the CGRP mAb. There is of course no good scientific basis for this, other than the company doesn’t want to pay for both. In fact, there is evidence that using Botox with the CGRP mAbs works better together than with either individually. An abstract presented at the American Headache Society Annual Scientific meeting in June 2020 showed that in patients with chronic migraine and a baseline frequency of 25.7 days per month, the frequency dropped to 14.8 days with Botox, and 9.1 days with Botox plus a CGRP mAb.

A similar insurance battle often ensues when trying to use the large molecule preventive CGRP mAbs with the small molecule abortive gepant medications (Nurtec, Ubrelvy), which also work by a CGRP mechanism. Insurance companies will often not allow these to be used together, but again, no good scientific basis. Actually, there is some limited evidence showing that these medications can work synergistically together, which would make sense when taking their mechanisms of action into account. Specifically, there was a publication of data from only a 2-patient cohort showing that the use of these acute and preventive CGRP migraine therapies together can be successful and safe. These two patients had been using rimegepant (Nurtec) in a long-term safety study and had added erenumab (Aimovig). The combination of both successfully aborted 100% of their acute migraine attacks. Certainly we need need larger studies to confirm the suspicion that they likely work together synergistically.

The bottom line is that the CGRP mAbs as a class are all very effective for the majority of patients. Ultimately, the one prescribed will often depend on insurance formulary preferences, but there are no “bad options” among them!

 

Clinical comparisons of the CGRP mAbs

There are currently 4 CGRP mAbs available, and each is detailed and compared below in order of FDA approval and becoming available for use. There are some characteristics for each one which can be used to fine tune selection based on specific patient clinical perspectives.

 

Aimovig (Erenumab)

Aimovig was the first of the CGRP mAbs to come on the scene. It is made by Amgen and was FDA approved for migraine prevention 5/17/18. The antibody is produced by recombinant DNA technology in Chinese hamster ovary cells. It is the only one thus far which targets the CGRP receptor rather that the CGRP ligand (protein) itself. Therefore, it binds to the receptor, blocking the ability of the CGRP ligand to bind to the receptor and activate the migraine. It is dosed by either a 70 mg or 140 mg once monthly subcutaneous autoinjector. Since Aimovig came out first, we have longer term data available for it. At close to 5 years on the 140 mg dose, 77% of patients had a 50% reduction in monthly migraine days, 56% of patients had a 75% reduction in monthly migraine days, and 33% of patients had a 100% reduction in monthly migraine days. The dose can be administered to the abdomen, arm, buttocks, or thigh areas.

In post-marketing observations, there have been some reports of hypersensitivity reactions (rash, allergic reactions, itching) in which most were not serious and occurred within hours of administration, and up to 1 week after. Constipation was noted in the studies to occur in a very small percentage (1% for 70 mg, 3% for 140 mg). In post-marketing observations, there have been further reports of constipation with serious complications as well. Constipation occurs after the first dose in the majority of patients who will have this side effect (keep in mind the vast majority do not). Regardless, if you already have problems with constipation, I typically suggest trying one of the other CGRP mAbs (although it doesn’t mean it still can’t be tried). Post-marketing observations have also shown some worsening of pre-existing hypertension or development of hypertension. This observation was most frequently reported within 7 days of administration. Most of these patients already had pre-existing hypertension, or risk factors for developing it.

There is an Aimovig coupon available on the company’s website in which most commercial insurance plans can get the medication for $5 per month, with the first 3 doses free.

 

Ajovy (Fremanezumab)

Ajovy was the 2nd of the CGRP mAbs to come along. It is made by Teva and was FDA approved for migraine prevention 9/14/18. It is produced by recombinant DNA technology in Chinese hamster ovary cells. It targets the CGRP ligand, rather than the CGRP receptor. It binds to the CGRP ligand, interfering with its ability to bind to the CGRP receptor and activate the migraine. It is dosed by either a 225 mg once monthly or 675 mg once quarterly autoinjector or syringe. The dose can be administered to the abdomen, arm, buttocks, or thigh areas. There have been some reports of hypersensitivity reactions (rash, allergic reactions, itching) as well, typically mild to moderate and occurred hours to 1 month after administration. Ajovy has the least potential for constipation, so if that is an ongoing significant issue for a patient, then I typically suggest trying Ajovy first. Ajovy also has the longest half-life, so if the patient tends to wear off early towards the end of the month, it may help to extend relief closer to the next monthly injection.

Of note, in the Ajovy chronic migraine studies, all patients receiving medication were given a loading dose of 675 mg for dose 1 followed by the standard 225 mg each subsequent month. However, this is not how it is normally dosed clinically for patients doing monthly treatments of 225 mg (no loading dose). Therefore, this initial loading dose could have potentially influenced some of the subsequent data.

There is an Ajovy coupon available on the company’s website in which most commercial insurance plans can get the medication for $5 per month.

 

Emgality (Galcanezumab)

Emgality was the 3rd of the CGRP mAbs to come along. It is made by Eli Lilly and was FDA approved for migraine prevention 9/26/18. Notably, it is the only one which also has FDA approval for prevention of episodic cluster headache, which was received on 6/4/19. It is produced by recombinant DNA technology in Chinese hamster ovary cells. It targets the CGRP ligand, rather than the CGRP receptor. Thus, it binds to the CGRP ligand, interfering with its ability to bind to the CGRP receptor and activate the migraine. It is dosed by a 240 mg subcutaneous autoinjector for the 1st month only, followed by a 120 mg once monthly injection thereafter. The higher initial loading dose allows for obtaining a rapid steady state concentration level in the blood compared to Aimovig and Ajovy. The dose can be administered to the abdomen, arm, buttocks, or thigh areas. There have been some reports of hypersensitivity reactions (rash, allergic reactions, itching) as well.

There is an Emgality coupon available on the company’s website in which most commercial insurance plans can get the medication for $0 per month for up to 12 months.

 

Vyepti (Eptinezumab)

Vyepti was the 4th and most recent of the CGRP mAbs to become available. It is made by Lundbeck and was FDA approved for migraine prevention 2/21/20. The antibody is produced in Pichia pastoris yeast cells by recombinant DNA technology. It targets the CGRP ligand, rather than the CGRP receptor. It binds very strongly to the CGRP ligand, interfering with its ability to bind to the CGRP receptor and activate the migraine. It comes in 100 mg and 300 mg doses and is dosed once quarterly (every 3 months) by a quick 30-minute infusion. The 100 mg dose is the recommended starting dose which can be titrated as needed to the higher dose later.

This is the only intravenous (IV) option available. Since it is administered IV, it is 100% bioavailable compared to the bioavailability of the other subcutaneous injections of 50-82%. It also reaches Cmax (maximum concentration) in about 30 minutes compared to 5-7 days of the other subcutaneous injections. Therefore, not surprisingly Vyepti showed treatment benefit in the first 7 days, often as early as 1 day post treatment, and showed continued effect through week 4, which is great since many patients on the once monthly self-injection CGRP mAbs often report a wearing off effect as they are approaching their next due injection.

This is certainly a good first line consideration, but also a good option for patients who do not like the thought of giving themselves a once monthly shot, have injection site reactions, or have failed the other CGRP mAbs options. Studies have shown some impressive highlights compared to other mAbs. In both the chronic and episodic migraine studies, almost 31% of patients had 75% or more reduction in migraine days in the 1st month alone. In the chronic migraine studies, about 27% of patients had a 75% or more reduction in migraine days over the first 3 months with 100 mg. After the 2nd dose (months 4-6), this increased to over 39% of patients! In the episodic migraine studies, over 22% of patients had a 75% or more reduction in migraine days over the first 3 months with 100 mg. After the 2nd dose (months 4-6), this increased to over 33.5% of patients.

There is a Vyepti coupon available on the company’s website in which most commercial insurance plans can get the medication for $5 per infusion every 3 months.

 

Data comparisons of the CGRP mAbs

The comprehensive table which follows compares all available data between the 4 CGRP mAbs, as I lityhave compiled from a combination of published studies, scientific posters, and supplemental data provided from medical science liaisons from each company. I have highlighted some of the data throughout the table when it is a unique aspect or superior response in that category. All 4 CGRP mAbs have variable highlights that makes them stand out from the others in various categories, but overall they are all very effective options as a medication class. It is important to realize that the data compiled in the table should not be considered as a direct head to head comparison between the medications, and not all data points were looked at for each drug. For each CGRP mAb, there were variations and differences in many trial aspects such as the study designs, how responder rates were calculated, statistical analysis used, trial endpoints, some responses were based on open label portions of trials (in which patients typically report a higher response rate when they know they are receiving the drug and not placebo), varying definitions such as “headache of at least moderate severity”, what defined a “headache” or “migraine day”, preventive medications being used simultaneously, and baseline migraine frequencies included in the studies. The extent of reduction in migraine days can be influenced by the patient’s baseline migraine frequency in both the episodic and chronic migraine studies (high frequency vs lower frequency). For example, some studies included patients with a much higher baseline migraine frequency, and thus the extent of their migraine day reduction may not be as great as a group studied with a lower baseline frequency to start with.

 

  Aimovig (Erenumab) Ajovy (Fremanezumab) Emgality (Galcanezumab) Vyepti (Eptinezumab)
Dosing 70 mg or 140 mg once monthly by subcutaneous autoinjector 225 mg once monthly or 675 mg once quarterly by autoinjector or syringe 240 mg subcutaneous autoinjector for 1st month followed by 120 mg monthly 100 mg or 300 mg quarterly by 30-minute intravenous (IV) infusion
Target CGRP receptor CGRP ligand CGRP ligand CGRP ligand
Half-life 28 days 31 days 27 days 27 days
Median Peak Serum Concentration 6 days 5-7 days 5 days 30 minutes (after infusion)
Steady State 3 months 168 days (6 months) After the 240 mg loading dose After 1st dose
Bioavailability 82% 54-57% N/A 100%
Episodic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in month 1 70 mg: -2.32 days

140 mg: -2.72 days Placebo: -0.9 days

675 mg quarterly: -3.3 days

225 mg monthly: -3.5 days

Placebo: -1.7 days

N/A N/A
Episodic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 1-3 N/A 675 mg quarterly: -3.7 days

225 mg monthly: -3.4 days

Placebo: -2.2 days

 

*Months 1-3 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: -4.7 days

225 mg monthly: -4.8 days

120 mg monthly: -4.1 days

Placebo: -2.1 days

100 mg: -3.9 days

300 mg: -4.3 days

Placebo: -3.2 days

Episodic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 4-6 70 mg: -3.2 +/- 0.2 days

140 mg: -3.7 +/- 0.2 days

Placebo: -1.8 +/- 0.2 days

N/A 120 mg monthly: -5 days

Placebo: -3 days

100 mg: -4.5 days

300 mg: -4.8 days

Placebo: -3.8 days

Episodic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 1-6 N/A 675 mg quarterly: -5 days

225 mg monthly: -4.9 days

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label

120 mg: -4.3-4.7 days

Placebo: -2.3-2.8 days

N/A
Episodic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 1-12 70 mg: -4.22 +/- 0.22 days

140 mg: -4.64 +/- 0.19 days

Placebo: -1.8 days

675 mg quarterly: -5.2 days

225 mg monthly: -5.1 days

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label

120 mg: -5.13 days

 

*12 month safety study with no placebo

100 mg: -4.6 days

300 mg: -5.2 days

Placebo: -4 days

 

*Reported as months 7-12

Episodic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in month 1

70 mg: 32.7%

140 mg: 35.5% Placebo: 15.5%

675 mg quarterly: 44%

225 mg monthly: 47% Placebo: 25%

 

120 mg: 50.8%

Placebo: 23.7%

100 mg: 59.3%

300 mg: 56.3%

Placebo: 40.5%

Episodic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-3

70 mg: 41.3%

140 mg: 48.1% Placebo: 26.3%

675 mg quarterly: 44.4%

225 mg monthly: 47.7% Placebo: 27.9%

 

*At month 3 alone (not averaged over months 1-3):

675 mg quarterly: 49%

225 mg monthly: 51% Placebo: 37%

 

*At month 3 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: 59%

225 mg monthly: 61%

120 mg: 55%

Placebo: 32%

 

*At month 2 alone:

120 mg: 54.1%

Placebo: 34.5%

 

*At month 3 alone:

120 mg: 57.7%

Placebo: 37.9%

 

 

100 mg: 49.8%

300 mg: 56.3%

Placebo: 37.4%

Episodic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 4-6

70 mg: 43%

140 mg: 50%

Placebo: 26.6%

N/A 120 mg: 67%

Placebo: 43%

 

*At month 4 alone:

120 mg: 65.2%

Placebo: 41.9%

 

*At month 5 alone:

120 mg: 68.6%

Placebo: 43.7%

 

*At month 6 alone:

120 mg: 66%

Placebo: 44.8%

100 mg: 62%

300 mg: 65.3%

Placebo: 51.4%

Episodic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-6

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 65%

225 mg monthly: 60%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label, data is at month 6

120 mg: 59.3-62.3% days

Placebo: 36-38.6%

N/A
Episodic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-12

70 mg: 61%

140 mg: 64.9% Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: 66%

225 mg monthly: 68%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label, data is at month 12

N/A 100 mg: 64.7%

300 mg: 69.4%

Placebo: 55.9%

 

*Reported as months 7-12

Episodic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in month 1

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 20%

225 mg monthly: 22% Placebo: 10%

 

120 mg: 25.7%

Placebo: 6.5%

 

100 mg: 30.8%

300 mg: 31.5%

Placebo: 20.3%

Episodic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-3

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 18.4%

225 mg monthly: 18.5% Placebo: 9.7%

 

*At month 3 alone (not averaged over months 1-3):

675 mg quarterly: 30%

225 mg monthly: 29% Placebo: 10%

120 mg: 30%

Placebo: 14%

 

*At month 2 alone:

120 mg: 31.2%

Placebo: 11%

 

*At month 3 alone:

120 mg: 34.2%

Placebo: 12.8%

100 mg: 22.2%

300 mg: 29.7%

Placebo: 16.2%

Episodic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 4-6

70 mg: 20.8%

140 mg: 22%

Placebo: 7.9%

N/A 120 mg: 42%

Placebo: 24%

 

*At month 4 alone:

120 mg: 41.6%

Placebo: 15.2%

 

*At month 5 alone:

120 mg: 41.4%

Placebo: 15.5%

 

*At month 6 alone:

120 mg: 43.9%

Placebo: 15.8%

100 mg: 33.5%

300 mg: 40.1%

Placebo: 24.8%

Episodic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-6

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 39%

225 mg monthly: 37%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label, data is at month 6

120 mg: 33.5-38.8%

Placebo: 17.8%-19.3%

 

N/A
Episodic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-12

70 mg: 38.5%

140 mg: 40.8% Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: 42%

225 mg monthly: 45%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label, data is at month 12

N/A 100 mg: 41.2%

300 mg: 47.7%

Placebo: 32%

 

*Reported as months 7-12

Episodic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in month 1

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 5%

225 mg monthly: 8% Placebo: 2%

 

120 mg: 8.8%

Placebo: 2.2%

 

100 mg: 8.6%

300 mg: 14.9%

Placebo: 5.9%

Episodic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 1-3

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 0.7%

225 mg monthly: 2.4% Placebo: 0%

 

120 mg: 11%

Placebo: 4%

 

*At month 2 alone:

120 mg: 11.8%

Placebo: 3.7%

 

*At month 3 alone:

120 mg: 12.2%

Placebo: 7.3%

100 mg: 11.4%

300 mg: 16.8%

Placebo: 9.1%

Episodic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 4-6

70 mg: 3.2%

140 mg: 5%

Placebo: 2.8%

N/A 120 mg: 17%

Placebo: 9%

 

*At month 4 alone:

120 mg: 16.3%

Placebo: 8.5%

 

*At month 5 alone:

120 mg: 17.6%

Placebo: 8.7%

 

*At month 6 alone:

120 mg: 16.5%

Placebo: 9.5%

100 mg: 19.8%

300 mg: 24.5%

Placebo: 14.3%

Episodic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 1-6

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 18%

225 mg monthly: 20%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label, data is at month 6

120 mg: 11.5-15.6%

Placebo: 5.7-6.2%

 

N/A
Episodic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 1-12

70 mg: 19.8%

140 mg: 21.2% Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: 17%

225 mg monthly: 21%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label, data is at month 12

N/A 100 mg: 26.8%

300 mg: 30.6%

Placebo: 20.5%

 

*Reported as months 7-12

Chronic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in month 1 70 mg: -5 +/- 0.42 days

140 mg: -5.1 +/- 0.42 days

Placebo: -2.7 +/- 0.34 days

675 mg quarterly: -4.8 days

225 mg monthly: -4.7 days

Placebo: -2.7 days

120 mg: -4.06

Placebo: -1.78

 

N/A
Chronic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 1-3 70 mg: -6.6 +/- 0.4 days

140 mg: -6.6 +/- 0.4 days

Placebo: -4.2 +/- 0.4 days

675 mg quarterly: -5 days

225 mg monthly: -4.9 days

Placebo: -3.2 days

 

*Months 1-3 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: -6 days

225 mg monthly: -6.7 days

120 mg: -4.8 days

Placebo -2.7 days

 

*At month 2 alone:

120 mg: -5.01

Placebo: -3.04

 

*At month 3 alone:

120 mg: -5.41

Placebo: -3.39

100 mg: -7.7 days

300 mg: -8.2 days

Placebo: -5.6 days

Chronic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 4-6 N/A N/A N/A 100 mg: -8.2 days

300 mg: -8.8 days

Placebo: -6.2 days

Chronic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 1-6 N/A 675 mg quarterly: -6.5 days

225 mg monthly: -7.6 days

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label

N/A N/A
Chronic migraine: Reduction in mean monthly migraine days in months 1-12 70 mg: -8.5 days

140 mg: -10.5 days

Combined 70 mg and 140 mg: -9.3 days

Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: -7.2 days

225 mg monthly: -8 days

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label

120 mg: -7.21

 

*12 month safety study with no placebo

N/A
Chronic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in month 1

70 mg: 23.9%

140 mg: 28.3% Placebo: 11.4%

675 mg quarterly: 33%

225 mg monthly: 36%

Placebo: 19%

120 mg: 26.4%

Placebo 11%

 

100 mg: 54.5%

300 mg: 60.6%

Placebo: 36.1%

Chronic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-3

70 mg: 40%

140 mg: 41%

Placebo: 23%

675 mg quarterly: 30.7%

225 mg monthly: 33.3%

Placebo: 19.9%

 

*At month 3 alone (not averaged over months 1-3):

675 mg quarterly: 37%

225 mg monthly: 39% Placebo: 25%

 

*At month 3 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: 42%

225 mg monthly: 48%

120 mg: 27.6%

Placebo 15.4%

 

*At month 2 alone:

120 mg: 30.7%

Placebo: 17.7%

 

*At month 3 alone:

120 mg: 35.2%

Placebo: 24.7%

 

100 mg: 57.6%

300 mg: 61.4%

Placebo: 39.3%

Chronic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 4-6

N/A N/A N/A

 

 

100 mg: 61%

300 mg: 64%

Placebo: 44%

Chronic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-6

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 44%

225 mg monthly: 54%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label, data is at month 6

N/A, however:

 

*At month 6 in open label extension trial:

120 mg: 44.5%

N/A
Chronic migraine:

50% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-12

70 mg: 53.3%

140 mg: 67.3%

Combined 70 mg and 140 mg: 59%

Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: 53%

225 mg monthly: 57%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label, data is at month 12

N/A, however:

 

*At month 9 in open label extension trial:

120 mg: 53.9%

 

*At month 12 in open label extension trial:

120 mg: 56.9%

N/A
Chronic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in month 1

N/A Month 1 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: 21%

225 mg monthly: 21%

N/A 100 mg: 30.9%

300 mg: 36.9%

Placebo: 15.6%

Chronic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-3

70 mg: 17%

140 mg: 20.9% Placebo: 7.8%

675 mg quarterly: 9.6%

225 mg monthly: 12.3%

Placebo: 5.4%

 

*At month 3 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: 20%

225 mg monthly: 24%

120 mg: 7%

Placebo 4.5%

 

100 mg: 26.7%

300 mg: 33.1%

Placebo: 15%

Chronic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 4-6

N/A N/A N/A 100 mg: 39.3%

300 mg: 43.1%

Placebo: 23.8%

Chronic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-6

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 28%

225 mg monthly: 24%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label, data is at month 6

N/A, however:

 

*At month 6 in open label extension trial:

120 mg: 21.7%

N/A
Chronic migraine:

75% or more reduction in migraine days in months 1-12

70 mg: 27.1%

140 mg: 41.8%

Combined 70 mg and 140 mg: 33.2%

Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: 28%

225 mg monthly: 31%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label, data is at month 12

N/A, however:

 

*At month 9 in open label extension trial:

120 mg: 27.9%

 

*At month 12 in open label extension trial:

120 mg: 31.1%

N/A
Chronic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in month 1

N/A Month 1 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: 6%

225 mg monthly: 5%

N/A 100 mg: 7.9%

300 mg: 13.4%

Placebo: 2.7%

Chronic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 1-3

70 mg: 4.3%

140 mg: 2.7%

Placebo: 0.4%

675 mg quarterly: 5.3%

225 mg monthly: 4.5%

Placebo: 4%

 

*At month 3 in long term extension study (open label):

675 mg quarterly: 5%

225 mg monthly: 6%

120 mg: 0.7%

Placebo 0.5%

 

100 mg: 10.8%

300 mg: 15.1%

Placebo: 5.1%

Chronic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 4-6

N/A N/A N/A 100 mg: 17.8%

300 mg: 20.8%

Placebo: 9.3%

Chronic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 1-6

N/A 675 mg quarterly: 8%

225 mg monthly: 8%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-6 open label, data is at month 6

N/A N/A
Chronic migraine:

100% reduction in migraine days in months 1-12

70 mg: 6.1%

140 mg: 12.7%

Combined 70 mg and 140 mg: 8.9%

Placebo: N/A

675 mg quarterly: 9%

225 mg monthly: 10%

 

*months 1-3 placebo, months 4-12 open label, data is at month 12

N/A N/A
Side effects:

Nasopharyngitis

70 mg: 3-9.9%

140 mg: 2-11%

Placebo 6-10%

675 mg quarterly: 5-8%

225 mg monthly: <1-8%

Placebo: 4-9%

120 mg: 7.4%

Placebo: 6.5%

100 mg: 6%

300 mg: 8%

Placebo: 6%

Side effects:

Hypersensitivity reactions

70 mg: <1%

140 mg: <1%

Placebo : <1%

675 mg quarterly: <1%

225 mg monthly: <1%

Placebo: <1%

120 mg: 1%

Placebo: 1%

100 mg: 1%

300 mg: 2%

Placebo: 0%

Side effects:

Constipation

70 mg: 1%

140 mg: 3%

Placebo 1%

675 mg quarterly: <1%

225 mg monthly: <1%

Placebo: <1%

120 mg: 1%

Placebo: <1%

100 mg: <1%

300 mg: <1%

Placebo: <1%

Side effects:

Cramps, muscle spasms

70 mg: <1%

140 mg: 2%

Placebo <1%

675 mg quarterly: <1%

225 mg monthly: <1%

Placebo: <1%

120 mg: <1%

Placebo: <1%

100 mg: <1%

300 mg: <1%

Placebo: <1%

Side effects:

Injection site reactions

70 mg: 6%

140 mg: 5%

Placebo 3%

675 mg quarterly: 18-19%

225 mg monthly: 23%

Placebo: 4%

120 mg: 18%

Placebo: 13%

N/A

 

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Last updated on April 10th, 2021 at 05:05 am

BEST HEADACHE AND MIGRAINE PREVENTION MEDICATIONS AND TREATMENTS, WHEN YOU SHOULD START ONE, AND WHEN YOU SHOULD STOP IT.

@Neuralgroover

BACKGROUND

Migraine is a very disruptive disorder to have to deal with. It interferes with patients’ family, work, and social lives. When the burden of migraine becomes excessive on one or more of these life aspects, preventive migraine therapy should be used. In general, if someone is averaging more than 4 migraines per month, preventive treatment should be offered and discussed, although this number is not an absolute. For example, if someone has 1 migraine per month, but it wipes them out for 1 week and they are missing work, there are certainly variations on when preventive medications should be considered, such as this scenario. If the decision to use a preventive migraine medication has been made, there are several important factors to keep in mind in order to optimize treatment success, as discussed below.

So this blog will focus on migraine preventive meds and treatments, which are a continuous treatment such as a daily pill or a monthly/quarterly treatment such as CGRP mAbs, all of which are detailed below. The goal of migraine preventive treatment is to lessen the frequency and/or severity of migraine attacks. This is in contrast to migraine abortive/acute (as needed) options such as triptans, gepants and ditans. The goal of migraine abortive treatments is to stop individual migraine attacks at onset so the migraine does not reach full severity, ends quickly, and your function is restored and maintained rather than having to go lay down and miss the whole day in bed.  If you have migraine, you want to have both a good abortive and preventive treatment plan to lessen migraine’s nasty habit of interfering and disrupting life and function.

 

TIME

Any preventive medication needs an adequate “therapeutic trial”. In short, you need to be patient and give it enough time to work, as well as get to the correct dose. I see patients all the time that tell me their doctor put them on a medication (usually at too low of a dose), and they stopped it after 3 weeks because it “wasn’t doing anything”. Well, it’s not going to do anything that soon, and that is too early to expect any significant improvement. In general, any preventive medication needs 4-6 weeks to begin working, and 2-3 months until full effect is seen (assuming a good dose has been reached). A good rule of thumb is evaluation of response a minimum of 8 weeks after reaching a target therapeutic dose. If there is a partial response at that time, it’s possible that cumulative benefit can continue to occur over 6-12 months. So the decision on whether to continue really depends on how much benefit has been received, and how well the the patient is tolerating the medication. Unfortunately, there is no way to expedite this process. That doesn’t mean the treatment can’t work sooner. However, that is the standard duration of treatment for a medication to have had a fair trial. Finding a migraine preventive is often a trial and error process. If a treatment is not starting to help by at least 8 weeks at a good dose, changing to a different therapy is suggested. However, once an effective treatment is found, the wait is well worth the decline of migraine frequency and severity!

 

DOSE

In addition to an adequate trial duration, an adequate trial dose is also necessary. For example, a common first line medication used for migraine prevention is Topiramate (which is also FDA approved for migraine prevention). I often see patients who come in on 25 mg or 50 mg and have been on that dose for a year or more without much benefit. I discuss with them that the goal dose is at least 100 mg total daily dose, so the dose is too low. For example, in the migraine preventive trials, once patients reached 100 mg and had been at that dose specifically for at least 4 weeks, that is when improvement of statistical significance began. So, I typically start 25 mg at bedtime for 1 week. Then each week increase by 25 mg at bedtime until 100 mg is reached, and then I give a 100 mg pill to begin. I tell them if there is no improvement starting after at least 4 weeks from reaching the 100 mg dose specifically, let me know. I usually dose it all at bedtime which can help limit side effect potential (since you’ll be sleeping). However, it is generally meant to be taken as a twice daily medicine (such as 50 mg twice daily), and most patients tolerate that fine too.

 

With that said, patients can certainly respond to low doses of medications. However, if improvement has been minimal after a month of a lower dose, it is always a good idea to begin titration up to a better dose. The American Headache Society and American Academy of Neurology published guidelines of migraine preventive medications which includes common goal dose targets for some of these preventive medications here.

 

TREATMENT SELECTION

There are many preventive treatments used, although most of them are considered “off-label” for migraine prevention. This means they are not actually FDA approved for migraine prevention, but there is enough evidence based on research trials or clinical experience to warrant them as a valid option to try. As far as true FDA approved oral (pills by mouth) preventive medications, there are 4 available that have this distinction; Topiramate, Divalproex, Propranolol, and Timolol. There are also a number of natural migraine treatments with supplements which have evidence for migraine prevention, and those are detailed and discussed here.

 

So, let’s discuss migraine prevention medicine.  The categories of oral preventive migraine medications all sound bizarre. They consist of anti-seizure (anti-convulsant), anti-depressant/anti-anxiety, and anti-hypertension (blood pressure) medications. It is important for patients to know that the medicine is being used specifically for migraine. I often see patients who say they didn’t start the medicine their doctor prescribed because they got home, Googled it, and they tell me, “I’m not depressed”. I explain the reasoning for the medication and that it is not for depression, but for migraine prevention since there are overlapping electrical pathways between many of these types of disorders. Furthermore, there are select medications within each of these categories that have evidence from trials and clinical experience for migraine prevention, as listed here and here. For patients that have chronic migraine (15 or more headache days per month with 8 or more days having migrainous features), Botox is another highly effective option to consider.

 

It is also important to know that the medications in each of these medication classes are not a “one size fits all” for every medicine within that category. For example, there is no good evidence for migraine prevention in the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication category (Fluoxetine, Sertraline, Escitalopram, Citalopram, etc.). However, there is evidence for benefit in some of the SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) such as Venlafaxine XR, Duloxetine, as well as some of the TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), primarily Amitriptyline and Nortriptyline. Similarly, there are select medications within the anti-seizure/anti-convulsant category which have the best evidence (Topiramate, Divalproex), as well as the anti-hypertension category (Propranolol, Metoprolol, Atenolol, Nadolol, Verapamil).

 

There are now 4 monoclonal antibody CGRP receptor antagonists which have this FDA approval for migraine prevention also. Three of them are once monthly auto/self-injections (Aimovig, Ajovy, Emgality), and one is a once quarterly (every 3 months) 30 minute IV (intravenous) infusion (Vyepti). In general, these are an option for those with 4 or more migraines per month on average.  The great thing about these treatment options as opposed to standard pill options is that they do not require a gradual dose escalation, they tend to have a much more rapid onset of improvement, and they have very low side effect risk. These medications are all discussed in much greater detail and comparison here.

 

Neuromodulatory devices that are FDA cleared for migraine prevention are also available and include sTMS (SAVI, SpringTMS, sTMS mini),  eTNS (CEFALY), and nVNS (GAMMACORE), all of which are discussed in much greater detail here. There are also nutraceuticals and supplements which have good evidence for migraine prevention. Yoga, relaxation and wellness therapies are also helpful in migraine prevention.

 

An exciting development is that there are 2 migraine preventive medications in the new gepant classification which are currently in clinical trials, and showing good evidence of effectiveness. They are both oral pills and include Atogepant and Rimegepant (currently FDA approved for abortive migraine treatment under the name Nurtec ODT 75 mg). So these will open up another new class of preventive migraine medications engineered purely for migraine treatment! Notably, Biohaven submitted a request to the FDA in October 2020 to approve Rimegepant as a preventive migraine treatment, in addition to its current migraine abortive FDA approved indication. This decision is pending. This move followed clinical trials showing that patients taking 75 mg of Rimegepant every other day experienced a 4.3 day reduction from baseline in monthly migraine days.

 

When choosing a preventive treatment, I like to fine-tune the treatment to “hit as many birds with one stone”. In other words, pick something that will not only help with migraine prevention, but may also help with other medical conditions at the same time. Doing this can allow you to help minimize the number of medications used overall, by using something with benefit for several disorders in addition to the migraine. For example, if someone has depression or anxiety, targeting their migraine preventive medication with an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety category would make sense. If the patient has other chronic musculoskeletal pain issues, fibromyalgia, occipital neuralgia, etc., the SNRIs and the TCAs are good considerations. If the patient has insomnia, Amitriptyline or Nortriptyline are great options. If they have seizures, an anti-seizure medication such as Topiramate or Divalproex would make sense. If they are overweight, Topiramate also causes weight loss. Divalproex is another anti-seizure medicine which is also FDA approved for migraine prevention. However, this should be avoided when possible in young women of child-bearing age given the high risk of congenital birth defects while taking it (and most pregnancies are unplanned).

Here are some treatment considerations to take into account for migraine preventive therapy in addition to the following medical conditions the patient may also have:

-Obese/Overweight: Topiramate (Topamax), Topiramate ER/XR (extended release, Trokendi or Qudexy XR), Zonisamide  (Zonegran): All can cause weight loss, which can be helpful in overweight patients. However, use with caution if patient is extremely thin to limit further weight loss. If they improve with Topamax, but have Topamax side effects (numbness and tingling, word-finding difficulty, speech disturbances, memory and cognitive disturbances, mood changes), changing to Topiramate ER/XR (extended release) or Zonisamide tend to have similar benefit with less side effects. Women who are on oral contraceptive pills are often warned prematurely by their pharmacist that Topiramate will effect their oral contraceptive. This is partly true. Topiramate at a daily dose of 200 mg or less does not interact with oral contraceptives according to this study, but it can at higher doses which could potentially decrease effectiveness. However, the goal dose for effective migraine prevention is typically 100 mg per day, well below that 200 mg dose that could impact effectiveness of the oral contraceptive. I would avoid Amitriptyline, Nortriptyline since there is a risk of weight gain for some.

-Underweight/Excessively thin: Side effects of Nortriptyline and Amitriptyline can occasionally be weight gain (but not necessarily), but this may be beneficial in some patients.

-Depression and/or anxiety: Venlafaxine ER, Duloxetine, Amitriptyline, Nortriptyline, Desvenlafaxine

-Mood disorder such as bipolar or psychosis: Divalproex, Topiramate, Carbamazepine

-Anxiety without depression: Venlafaxine ER, Amitriptyline, Duloxetine, Nortriptyline, Desvenlafaxine, Propranolol

-Insomnia: Amitriptyline, Nortriptyline

-Fatigue/Low energy: Venlafaxine ER, Duloxetine (these can be energizing for many, so are best taken in morning)

-Hypertension: Propranolol, Metoprolol, Nadolol, Atenolol, Lisinopril, Candesartan, Verapamil

-Palpitations: Propranolol, Metoprolol, Nadolol, Atenolol

-Chronic musculoskeletal pains, fibromyalgia, neuropathy/nerve pains: Amitriptyline, Duloxetine, Nortriptyline, Gabapentin

-Pregnancy: This one is tricky since the goal during pregnancy is to minimize the use of as many medications as possible. Mindfulness treatments such as yoga and meditation are always good recommendations. With that said, the first line option we typically begin with is magnesium supplementation of 400-800 mg daily. If a prescription medication is needed, cyproheptadine 4 mg at bedtime has been a long time medicine used in this scenario, and it can be titrated to 4 mg three times daily if needed. The good thing with pregnancy is that migraines improve in about 2/3rd of women (especially 2nd and 3rd trimester), and it is not uncommon to hear that migraines resolved during pregnancy. So many times a preventive treatment may not even be needed. For menstrually related migraine outside of pregnancy, further discussions and treatment considerations can be read here.

-Epilepsy: Topiramate, Topiramate ER/XR (extended release), Divalproex, Carbamazepine, and Zonisamide are the anticonvulsant medications we see most useful for migraine prevention. In fact, Topiramate and Divalproex are also FDA approved for migraine prevention. If patients improve with Topiramate but have side effects, changing to Topiramate ER/XR (extended release) or Zonisamide tend to have similar benefit with less side effects. Women who are on oral contraceptive pills are often warned prematurely by their pharmacist that Topiramate will effect their oral contraceptive. This is partly true. Topiramate at a daily dose of 200 mg or less does not interact with oral contraceptives according to this study, but it can at higher doses which could potentially decrease effectiveness. However, the goal dose for effective migraine prevention is typically 100 mg per day, well below that 200 mg dose that could impact effectiveness of the oral contraceptive.

-Non-oral route needed or preferred: Once monthly self/auto injections of monoclonal antibody CGRP receptor antagonists (Aimovig, Ajovy, Emgality) or once quarterly 30 minute IV infusion (Yvepti), which are all detailed here. Botox is another non-pill option for those averaging 15 or more headache days per month with at least 8 of those days having any migrainous features (throbbing, nausea, sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound (phonophobia)) for 3 or more consecutive months (chronic migraine). Neuromodulatory devices that are FDA cleared for migraine prevention are also available and include sTMS (SAVI, SpringTMS, sTMS mini),  eTNS (CEFALY), and nVNS (GAMMACORE), all of which are discussed in much greater detail here.

-Averaging 15 or more headache days per month with at least 8 of those days having any migrainous features (throbbing, nausea, sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound (phonophobia)) for 3 or more consecutive months (chronic migraine): Botox (Onabotulinumtoxin-A) injections every 3 months according to the PREEMPT chronic migraine treatment protocol. This is the only truly FDA approved medication for prevention of chronic migraine as of 2010. Any of the above listed medications are also options to consider, and most insurances will require failure of at least 2 classes of preventative oral medications before Botox is approved anyway, but this varies by insurance.

 

EXPECTATIONS

Expectations in migraine management are important. If your expectation is that your migraines will stop completely when you use preventive medications, you will be sorely disappointed. Of course it can certainly happen, but that is rare and should never be the expectation or goal. The goal of preventive therapy is a decrease in migraine frequency and/or severity of attacks (optimally both) to some extent to make them more tolerable and less intrusive into life. A general goal is 50% improvement in frequency and/or severity. Some patients can get much more than that, while others get much less (which would signal trials of a different medication class). With that said, success with migraine preventive benefit can also be considered in significant decreases is migraine attack duration or severity, reduction in migraine associated disability, improving the patient’s functioning in various areas of life, improvements in quality of life, and improvement in acute treatment responses. In general, studies estimate that about 45% of patients on conventional preventive therapy (such as oral medications) receive 50% reduction in monthly migraine days. Thus, 55% will receive less improvement than this. The CGRP mAbs tend to have a higher rate of improvement then conventional treatments as detailed here.

 

WHEN TO STOP

There is no absolute answer of when to stop preventive therapy. It depends on how well one is doing, how long they have been doing well, and how much they want to get rid of treatments. Some people want off as soon as they can, others prefer to stay on for years since they are doing very well with few migraines, and don’t want to “rock the boat”. In general, the goal is to continue preventive therapy until the patient is doing significantly better for at least 3 months, but preferably closer to 6 months or so. I always make sure to tell patients that preventive medicines or treatments are not necessarily meant to be a life-long commitment. Rather, we use these treatments to “reboot” and “reset” the brain’s electrical system to have less frequent and/or severe migraines, and then try to sneak away off the medications once they are consistently doing better.

 

IF YOU HAVE HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN AND ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS ON ANYTHING RELATED TO IT, A HEADACHE SPECIALIST IS HERE TO HELP, FOR FREE!

FIRST, LET’S DECIDE WHERE TO START:

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION, HOT TOPICS, AND TREATMENT TIPS, VISIT OUR FREE BLOG OF HOT TOPICS AND HEADACHE TIPS HERE. THIS IS WHERE I WRITE AND CONDENSE A BROAD VARIETY OF COMMON AND COMPLEX  MIGRAINE AND HEADACHE RELATED TOPICS INTO THE IMPORTANT FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS YOU NEED TO KNOW, ALONG WITH PROVIDING FIRST HAND CLINICAL EXPERIENCE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A HEADACHE SPECIALIST.

 

IF YOU DON’T HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR POSSIBLE TYPES OF HEADACHES OR FACIAL PAINS BASED ON YOUR SYMPTOMS, USE THE FREE HEADACHE AND FACIAL PAIN SYMPTOM CHECKER TOOL DEVELOPED BY A HEADACHE SPECIALIST NEUROLOGIST HERE!

 

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR FURTHER EDUCATION AND SELF-RESEARCH ON YOUR DIAGNOSIS, VISIT OUR FREE EDUCATION CENTER HERE.

 

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING TO ASK QUESTIONS TO A HEADACHE SPECIALIST OR OTHER HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, AND FACIAL PAIN WEBSITE MEMBERS, VISIT OUR FREE DISCUSSION FORUMS HERE.

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Last updated on April 10th, 2021 at 05:10 am

VISUAL SNOW, PERSISTENT MIGRAINE AURA, MIGRAINOUS STROKE, AND WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW.

@Neuralgroover

INTRODUCTION

The International Classification of Headache Disorders-3 (ICHD-3) classifies persistent aura without infarction (stroke) and migrainous infarction as two of the four reported complications of migraine, both of which are very rare. The other two reported complications of migraine include status migrainosus and migraine aura-triggered seizure, but these will not be discussed here1. 

 

MIGRAINE PATHOPHYSIOLOGY

In order to discuss persistent migraine aura without infarction or migrainous infarction, it is crucial to understand migraine pathophysiology, which involves a multitude of complex processes throughout the cortex, brainstem, and cerebral vasculature. The pathophysiology of migraine has evolved from the vascular theory to the neurovascular theory of migraine. The older vascular theory proposed by Wolff viewed migraine as beginning with cerebral vasospasm causing focal ischemic (lack of blood flow) symptoms (aura) followed by extra and/or intracranial hyperperfusion (excess blood flow) from vasodilatation leading to the migraine pain. 2 This theory made good sense for how stroke or persistent neurological symptoms could develop, from the period of cerebral vasospasm and constriction. However, in later studies of migraine with aura, regional hypoperfusion developed before and outlasted focal neurologic symptoms, and this dissociation of time, perfusion changes and symptoms indicated that these neurologic symptoms were not caused by truly ischemic blood flow, but rather the apparent hypoperfusion is secondary to a disturbance in brain metabolism. 3-6

Lashley first described his own visual aura and hypothesized that the aura was due to a spreading abnormality migrating over the visual cortex at a rate of 3-5 mm per minute in 1941. 7 In 1944, Leão described spreading depression as a wave beginning with a brief neuronal burst associated with transient increased blood flow followed by a longer lasting neuronal electrical suppression with decreased blood flow in an animal model. 8-10 Subsequent studies confirmed this initial focal hyperemia followed by posteriorly to anteriorly spreading oligaemia (reduced blood flow) and regional cerebral blood flow reduction, which does not reach critical ischemic values, in a wave-like manner at approximately 2-5 mm per minute. This spreading regional cerebral blood flow reduction is independent of arterial territories, and does not cross cytoarchitectural borders or neuronal discontinuity such as the central sulcus or lateral sulcus, confirming impaired neuronal metabolism with subsequent regional cerebral blood flow reduction, rather than true ischemia. 3-6 This remains the basis for the now current neurovascular theory of migraine.

Most studies have been unable to show significant ischemic cerebral blood flow changes during migraine attacks. Results have shown alterations in cerebral blood volume, relative cerebral blood flow, and tissue mean transit time (MTT) in the grey matter of the occipital cortex contralateral (opposite) to the side of aura during an attack, while others have shown global cerebral blood flow increase, and others have shown hypoperfusion of the whole hemisphere, but never true ischemic hypoperfusion. 11-14 Notably, cerebral blood flow changes correlate poorly with migraine pain, and neurogenic inflammation in the trigemino-vascular system is suspected to be the primary cause of migraine pain, rather than arterial vasodilatation. 11,15

 

PERSISTENT AURA WITHOUT INFARCTION

The ICHD-3 defines persistent aura without infarction as aura symptoms persisting for 1 week or more without evidence of infarction on neuroimaging. It should occur in a patient with a history of migraine with aura and typical of previous auras except that one or more aura symptoms persist for 1 week or more. Neuroimaging must show no evidence of infarction, and symptoms are not better accounted for by another ICHD-3 diagnosis. The aura symptoms are often bilateral and may last for months or years. It is important to differentiate persistent aura without infarction from symptomatic aura as a result of cerebral migrainous infarction. Aura symptoms lasting more than 1 hour and less than 1 week are classified as probable migraine with aura.

There are two primary types of persistent migraine aura that are described. One is persistent primary visual disturbance in which the patients describe “visual snow” or “television static” in both visual fields in both eyes, and some report additional intermittent scotoma or oscillating lights. 16 The other is persistent migraine aura with typical aura, in which patients describe scotoma, fortification, or oscillation in one hemifield (one side of vision), and does not go away (sometimes also called status aura). 16

The specific pathophysiology of persistent migraine aura without infarction remains unknown, although several theories exist. Some of these theories include low cerebral magnesium levels, abnormal cerebral energy metabolism, greater cerebral reactivity of NMDA receptors to glutamate, lower threshold for triggering cortical spreading depression, low cortical preactivation due to thalamocortical hypoactivity, sustained hyperexcitability of the visual cortex without significant dynamic modulation, sustained cortical neuronal dysfunction, intracortical disinhibition, loss of inhibitory GABA-ergic interneurons resulting in a network imbalance leading to a reverberating cycle of cortical spreading depression (small cortical infarctions below MRI sensitivity in the occipital cortex has been one proposed mechanism), or a combination of any of these possibilities. 16-21

The evaluation for persistent migraine aura without infarction should focus on excluding intracranial pathology, primarily stroke, although other intracranial etiologies need to be excluded. Brain MRI scan is preferable with MRA of the brain and neck (to also assess the arteries), but if medically contraindicated, brain CT scan with CTA of the brain and neck (to assess the arteries) can be pursued. Contrast administration for either type of scan is suggested, although not mandatory. A detailed neuro-ophthalmologic examination is also required. Studies investigating other imaging modalities for persistent migraine aura without infarction, including FDG-PET, MR-PWI, and Tc99m-HMPAO-SPECT, have shown conflicting and inconsistent results.

Treatment for persistent aura without infarction is undefined, and generally based on medication trial and error. The literature reveals an extensive list of medications tried and failed, with most attempting to target neuronal hyperexcitability. Treatments and medications which have been assessed have included anticonvulsants (lamotrigine, topiramate, valproic acid, gabapentin, phenobarbital, phenytoin, carbamazepine), benzodiazepines (clonazepam, diazepam), antidepressants (amitriptyline, cymbalta, buspirone, fluoxetine, nortriptyline, sertraline, dothiepin), anti-hypertensive (atenolol, acetazolamide, flunarazine, metoprolol, propranolol, verapamil, nifedipine, nimodipine, furosemide), NSAIDs (acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen, flurbiprofen, diclofenac, indomethacin, naproxen) analgesics (acetaminophen, butalbital, codeine), and a variety of other medications (baclofen, citicholine, ergotamine, ketamine, cyproheptadine, methylphenidate, methylprednisolone, pizotifen, prochlorperazine, promethazine, sumatriptan, memantine). The vast majority of these medications have shown no evidence of benefit. 16 Of them, lamotrigine has shown the most evidence of benefit, while divalproex sodium, baclofen, sertraline, nifedipine, nimodipine, acetylsalicylic acid, and furosemide have reported varying degrees of benefit from complete to partial resolution of symptoms. 16   

Abortive migraine options can include the gepants (Ubrelvy, Nurtec ODT), ditans (Reyvow), NSAIDs and other conventional abortives, although triptans and ergots should be avoided.

MIGRAINOUS INFARCTION

The ICHD-3 defines migrainous infarction as one or more migraine aura symptoms associated with an ischemic brain lesion in a correlating anatomical clinical territory demonstrated by neuroimaging. It should occur in a patient with a history of migraine with aura and typical of previous attacks except that one or more aura symptoms persists for more than 60 minutes, and it should not be better accounted for by another diagnosis. Clearly associating an ischemic stroke and a migraine attack in a migraine sufferer can be difficult. Cerebral infarction of other etiologies can coexist with migraine, can present with symptoms resembling migraine with aura, or cerebral infarction can occur during an attack of migraine with aura, and this is the only scenario that would be consistent with migrainous infarction.

Migrainous infarction occurs predominantly in the posterior circulation and in younger women. In the Cerebral Abnormalities in Migraine, an Epidemiological Risk Analysis (CAMERA) study, these infarct-like white matter lesions found in migraineurs (primarily in migraine with aura) were predominantly located in the posterior circulation, especially in the cerebellum. 22,23 However, these infarctions are not necessarily considered migrainous infarctions and the mechanisms are unclear.

Multiple studies have confirmed the association with increased stroke risk in women with migraine with aura. Women younger than age 45 who have migraine with aura, have a 2 fold increased risk of stroke. Notably, migraine without aura does not appear to have the same increased risk. This risk increases to 6 fold in the setting of oral contraceptive use containing estrogen, and more than 9 fold with combined smoking and oral contraceptive use. 24 Menstrual migraine and the use of hormonal therapy and birth control is discussed in more detail here. Women who are smokers and have migraine with aura should consider estrogen containing oral contraception a contraindication. Oral contraceptive use in non-smoking women with migraine with aura is more controversial. The World Health Organization (WHO) and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) suggest that in non-smoking women under age 35 with migraine with aura, there is an acceptable lower risk of oral contraceptive use. However, if they are over age 35, the risk is unacceptably higher and oral contraceptive use is contraindicated. According to the International Headache Society (IHS), in non-smoking women with migraine with aura who are either younger or older than age 35, taking into account other risk factors should individualize the decision for oral contraceptives. 24 These would include ischemic heart disease, family history of early heart disease at a young age of less than 45 years old, heart disease with concern for emboli such as atrial fibrillation, uncontrolled hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, obesity, systemic disease associated with increased stroke (connective tissue disease, sickle cell, hypercoagulability), etc. In women with an increased risk of stroke, and especially with multiple vascular risk factors, non-estrogen methods of birth control such as progesterone-only forms of contraception should be recommended.

Research has also reported that after high blood pressure, migraine with aura was the second strongest single predictor of heart attack and strokes, ahead of diabetes, smoking, obesity, and family history of early heart disease. 25 This increased risk was not seen in migraine without aura. It is not necessarily thought that migraine with aura causes the stroke, but rather it is a marker for young women at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease. However, the reasons for these associations are unclear, likely multifactorial, and clearly need to be further defined. Traditional vascular risk factors such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes and hyperlipidemia still show the strongest contribution to cardiovascular disease, so these should be optimized, especially in those with migraine with aura to reduce risk of both heart disease and stroke. 25

Some theorized mechanisms of migrainous infarction include vasospasm, endothelial dysfunction, vascular endothelium-related hypercoagulability during cortical spreading depression and the aura phase, or genetic alterations of the wall of the small cerebral arterial vessel walls. 26-31

The evaluation for migrainous infarction is similar to that of persistent migraine aura without infarction. By definition, an ischemic infarct in a correlating anatomic area to symptoms should be seen on MRI or CT of the brain. This warrants a further standard stroke evaluation, including imaging of the intra and extracranial vasculature (including carotid arteries), as well as cardiac evaluations beginning with transthoracic echocardiography. Electrocardiogram and telemetry should also be pursued to evaluate for paroxysmal arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation.

Treatment of migrainous infarction is the same as with any ischemic stroke. The initial goal is to evaluate for potentially treatable etiologies (such as cardioembolic source) and treat accordingly. Otherwise, secondary stroke risk factor modifications are the goal and include antiplatelet therapy in combination with optimal control of blood pressure, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, tobacco cessation, and healthy lifestyle changes.

Abortive migraine options can include the gepants (Ubrelvy, Nurtec ODT), ditans (Reyvow), NSAIDs and other conventional abortives, although triptans and ergots should be avoided.

 

IF YOU HAVE HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN AND ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS ON ANYTHING RELATED TO IT, A HEADACHE SPECIALIST IS HERE TO HELP, FOR FREE!

FIRST, LET’S DECIDE WHERE TO START:

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION, HOT TOPICS, AND TREATMENT TIPS, VISIT OUR FREE BLOG OF HOT TOPICS AND HEADACHE TIPS HERE. THIS IS WHERE I WRITE AND CONDENSE A BROAD VARIETY OF COMMON AND COMPLEX  MIGRAINE AND HEADACHE RELATED TOPICS INTO THE IMPORTANT FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS YOU NEED TO KNOW, ALONG WITH PROVIDING FIRST HAND CLINICAL EXPERIENCE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A HEADACHE SPECIALIST.

 

IF YOU DON’T HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR POSSIBLE TYPES OF HEADACHES OR FACIAL PAINS BASED ON YOUR SYMPTOMS, USE THE FREE HEADACHE AND FACIAL PAIN SYMPTOM CHECKER TOOL DEVELOPED BY A HEADACHE SPECIALIST NEUROLOGIST HERE!

 

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR FURTHER EDUCATION AND SELF-RESEARCH ON YOUR DIAGNOSIS, VISIT OUR FREE EDUCATION CENTER HERE.

 

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING TO ASK QUESTIONS TO A HEADACHE SPECIALIST OR OTHER HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, AND FACIAL PAIN WEBSITE MEMBERS, VISIT OUR FREE DISCUSSION FORUMS HERE.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia 2013;33:629-808.
  2. Wolff HG. Headache and Other Head Pain. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963.
  3. Olesen J, Larsen B, Lauritzen M. Focal hyperemia followed by spreading oligemia and impaired activation of rCBF in classic migraine. Ann Neurol 1981;9:344-52.
  4. Lauritzen M. Pathophysiology of the migraine aura. The spreading depression theory. Brain 1994;117 ( Pt 1):199-210.
  5. Lauritzen M, Skyhoj Olsen T, Lassen NA, Paulson OB. Changes in regional cerebral blood flow during the course of classic migraine attacks. Ann Neurol 1983;13:633-41.
  6. Lauritzen M,  Olesen J. Regional cerebral blood flow during migraine attacks by Xenon-133 inhalation and emission tomography. Brain 1984;107 ( Pt 2):447-61.
  7. Lashley KS. Patterns of cerebral integration indicated by the scotomas of migraine. Arch Neurol Psych. 1941;46:331-339.
  8. Leao AAP. Spreading depression of activity in cerebral cortex. Journal of Neurophysiology 1944;7:359-390.
  9. Leao AAP,  Morrison RS. Propagation of spreading cortical depression. Journal of Neurophysiology 1945;8:33-45.
  10. Leao AAP. Pial circulation and spreading depression of activity in the cerebral cortex. Journal of Neurophysiology 1944;7:391-396.
  11. Thomsen LL, Iversen HK, Olesen J. Cerebral blood flow velocities are reduced during attacks of unilateral migraine without aura. Cephalalgia 1995;15:109-16.
  12. Kobari M, Meyer JS, Ichijo M, Kawamura J. Cortical and subcortical hyperperfusion during migraine and cluster headache measured by Xe CT-CBF. Neuroradiology 1990;32:4-11.
  13. Sakai F,  Meyer JS. Regional cerebral hemodynamics during migraine and cluster headaches measured by the 133Xe inhalation method. Headache 1978;18:122-32.
  14. Tfelt-Hansen PC,  Koehler PJ. One hundred years of migraine research: major clinical and scientific observations from 1910 to 2010. Headache 2011;51:752-78.
  15. Moskowitz MA. Neurogenic inflammation in the pathophysiology and treatment of migraine. Neurology 1993;43:S16-20.
  16. Thissen S, Vos IG, Schreuder TH, Schreurs WM, Postma LA, Koehler PJ. Persistent migraine aura: new cases, a literature review, and ideas about pathophysiology. Headache 2014;54:1290-309.
  17. Relja G, Granato A, Ukmar M, Ferretti G, Antonello RM, Zorzon M. Persistent aura without infarction: decription of the first case studied with both brain SPECT and perfusion MRI. Cephalalgia 2005;25:56-9.
  18. Chen WT, Lin YY, Fuh JL, Hamalainen MS, Ko YC, Wang SJ. Sustained visual cortex hyperexcitability in migraine with persistent visual aura. Brain 2011;134:2387-95.
  19. Wang YF, Fuh JL, Chen WT, Wang SJ. The visual aura rating scale as an outcome predictor for persistent visual aura without infarction. Cephalalgia 2008;28:1298-304.
  20. Chronicle E,  Mulleners W. Might migraine damage the brain? Cephalalgia 1994;14:415-8.
  21. Coppola G, Parisi V, Di Lorenzo C, et al. Lateral inhibition in visual cortex of migraine patients between attacks. J Headache Pain 2013;14:20,2377-14-20.
  22. Kruit MC, van Buchem MA, Launer LJ, Terwindt GM, Ferrari MD. Migraine is associated with an increased risk of deep white matter lesions, subclinical posterior circulation infarcts and brain iron accumulation: the population-based MRI CAMERA study. Cephalalgia 2010;30:129-36.
  23. Kruit MC, Launer LJ, Ferrari MD, van Buchem MA. Infarcts in the posterior circulation territory in migraine. The population-based MRI CAMERA study. Brain 2005;128:2068-77.
  24. Tepper SJ, Tepper DE. The Cleveland Clinic Manual of Headache Therapy, 2nd ed. . Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2014.
  25. Kurth T, Bubes V, Buring J. Relative Contribution of Migraine with Aura to Cardiovascular Disease Occurrence in Women. Neurology 2013;80.
  26. Pezzini A, Del Zotto E, Giossi A, et al. The migraine-ischemic stroke relation in young adults. Stroke Res Treat 2010;2011:304921.
  27. Pezzini A, Del Zotto E, Giossi A, Volonghi I, Grassi M, Padovani A. The migraine-ischemic stroke connection: potential pathogenic mechanisms. Curr Mol Med 2009;9:215-26.
  28. Kurth T, Chabriat H, Bousser MG. Migraine and stroke: a complex association with clinical implications. Lancet Neurol 2012;11:92-100.
  29. Kurth T. Migraine and ischaemic vascular events. Cephalalgia 2007;27:965-75.
  30. Tietjen EG. Migraine and ischaemic heart disease and stroke: potential mechanisms and treatment implications. Cephalalgia 2007;27:981-7.
  31. Bousser MG,  Welch KM. Relation between migraine and stroke. Lancet Neurol 2005;4:533-42.

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Last updated on April 8th, 2021 at 11:51 pm

MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) FOR MIGRAINE, HEADACHE AND PAIN. A CRASH COURSE OF EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW.

@Neuralgroover

BACKGROUND

Medical marijuana (medical cannabis) for treatment of migraine, headache, pain, and chronic pain has become an increasingly hot topic of interest. As states continue to legalize the use of medical marijuana, there are increasing discussions and questions about its medical uses. What are the best medical marijuana strains for migraine, headache, and pain? Is medical marijuana helpful for migraine, chronic migraine, headache, pain, and chronic pain? How is medical marijuana used and dosed? Is medical marijuana legal to use? What are the side effects of medical marijuana? How do you get medical marijuana? How does marijuana differ from CBD (cannabidiol)? What is the best CBD dose for pain? What is the best CBD dose for migraine? What is the best THC dose. How do you increase CBD dosing, THC dosing, or cannabis dosing?

 

Patients ask about these treatments all the time, so this blog is to provide a comprehensive overview to answer all of these questions and much more. Reading the whole blog will give you a comprehensive, yet condensed detailed education of its history and everything you need to know about cannabis, CBD, and THC for medical use, with an additional focus in the treatment of migraine and pain. Alternatively, you can skip down to find the specific topic that you are looking for information on. For example, specific suggestions for how to begin CBD or THC dosing, and a schedule of how to titrate upwards can be found below. If you would like to skip to a specific topic, here is the sequence of the topics discussed:

 

-HISTORY CRASH COURSE OF MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) IN THE TREATMENT OF MIGRAINE, PAIN, PROHIBITION, AND RETURN TO LEGAL STATUS.

-STATES WHERE MEDICAL AND RECREATIONAL (ADULT-USE) MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) ARE LEGAL.

-MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) USE FOR PAIN AND MIGRAINE.

-WHAT TYPES OF MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) ARE THERE AND HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONE TO USE?

-WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) USE FOR MIGRAINE?

-GENERAL SUGGESTIONS OF HOW TO USE MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS).

-HOW DO YOU ESTIMATE THC CONTENT, WHAT IS THE BEST THC DOSE, AND HOW DO YOU USE THC?

-WHAT IS THE BEST CBD DOSE AND HOW DO YOU USE CBD?

-SIDE EFFECTS AND ADVERSE REACTIONS OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS).

-WHAT IS CANNABIS HYPEREMESIS SYNDROME AND HOW DO YOU TREAT IT?

-CANNABIS (MARIJUANA) ADDICTION AND ABUSE

 

When many people hear the term “medical marijuana”, they think of a street drug with no true medicinal qualities, used only for recreation and abuse. Their mind immediately activates the visual hippie imagery of the 1967 Summer of Love and 1969 Woodstock festival. However, this is an outdated view in the scientific research community. The term “marijuana” (sometimes spelled marihuana) is a loaded term with many negative connotations including old political and racial associations, and is associated with the plant being used recreationally as a drug of abuse. Cannabis is the scientific name of the plant and is the preferred terminology.

 

It is best to think of cannabis, as a broad class of medication. Within this medication class there are many types of cultivars (strains, breeds), or more accurately, chemovars (chemotypes). “Cultivar” is short for “cultivated variety”, while “chemovar” refers to “chemical variety”. The older cultivar classification system (Sativa, Indica, Ruderalis) has evolved to the more current, scientific, and simplified chemovar classification system. These systems are discussed in more detail further down under the treatment section.

 

Each chemovar has standardized reproducible compositions of cannabinoids and terpenes, which are the phytochemicals in cannabis that make up most of the medicinal qualities. The CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) cannabinoids and terpenes are discussed further down, and are also discussed in great detail here. Similar to a medication, there will be some variation in benefits, responses, effectiveness, and side effects between patients for each chemovar. Also similar to a medication, there are common characteristics attributed to each chemovar that the majority of users will experience.

 

For comparison of this concept, antidepressants are a broad class of medication. Within this medication class there are many types of drugs. Each drug has standardized reproducible compositions of neurotransmitter targets. Similarly, there will be some variation in benefits, responses, effectiveness, and side effects between patients for each drug, and a set of common characteristics attributed to each drug that the majority of users will experience.

 

HISTORY CRASH COURSE OF MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) IN THE TREATMENT OF MIGRAINE, PROHIBITION, AND RETURN TO LEGAL STATUS.

To understand the current legal status of cannabis, it is important to know the history of cannabis, detailed here. The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient times, with a Western/Central Asian botanical origin. Medicinal uses have been documented to 4000 BC or more. Chinese physicians were using it for joint pains and analgesia in childbirth 5000 years ago. Fast forward to 1839 when Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy introduced the Western world to the medicinal uses of Cannabis indica, or “Indian hemp”, after he spent a professorship in Calcutta, India and learned of its uses while there. He advocated for its use in analgesia and muscle relaxation.

 

Throughout the 1800s into the 1900s, it was being recommended by many prominent physicians of those times for numerous diseases, particularly pain, headache, chronic daily headache, migraine, and chronic migraine, and was being used both acutely and preventatively.

 

In 1890, Sir John Reynolds, President of the British Medical Association, and Physician to the Royal household, wrote a paper in Lancet on his 30 years of experience prescribing cannabis for variety of ailments, particularly migraine and neuralgia.

 

In 1915, the “Father of modern medicine”, Sir William Osler, was recommending cannabis for migraine treatment in his historic medical textbook of those times, The Principles and Practice of Medicine. He went on to suggest that when treating migraine, “Cannabis indica is probably the most satisfactory remedy. Seguin recommends a prolonged course.” Dr. E.C. Seguin whom he referenced was a well-known neurologist and was the President of the NY Neurological Society. He was a vocal proponent of cannabis for migraine.

 

Cannabis-based preparations had been listed in the US Dispensatory in 1845. In North America, some pharmaceutical companies including Bristol-Meyers Squib, Parke-Davis, and Eli Lilly were producing cannabis-based preparations, as was Burroughs-Wellcome & Co. in England.

 

In the 1930s, Harry Anslinger was leading the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which was essentially the early DEA. He began a campaign against cannabis, attempting to associate psychosis, mental deterioration, addiction, and violent crimes to cannabis use. He claimed cannabis was a drug of abuse used by minority and low-income communities. Instead of using the term cannabis when he was pushing his prohibition bill in front of congress in 1937, he purposely would use the term “marijuana,” subtly trying to convey a racial connection since it was commonly associated with recreational use among poor Mexican immigrants who would bring it from Mexico to the USA at that time. He reportedly chose his terminology wisely to fit this agenda and distance the plant from the more scientific term cannabis along with its growing uses for medicinal and industrial purposes. Furthermore, marijuana has a general connotation of being used as an intoxicant and recreationally, whereas cannabis has more of a scientific association. For all of these reasons, cannabis should really be the preferred terminology over marijuana.

 

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, attributing large fines and prison time to anyone involved with cannabis. Some historians also discuss influence on this law from prominent businessmen such as Andrew Mellon and the DuPont family since the hemp industry was gaining traction in industrial uses, posing a threat to synthetic and other more common competitor products, but that is a whole different discussion. The AMA (American Medical Association) strongly opposed this law.

 

In 1938, Dr. Robert Walton argued against the new Marihuana Tax Act and published a comprehensive review of cannabis, referencing 12 experts on its effectiveness for migraine.

 

In 1941 cannabis preparations were taken off the US Pharmacopoeia and National Formulary.

 

In 1942, Dr. Fishbein, the Editor of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), published his recommendations for oral preparations of cannabis over ergotamine for menstrual migraine. Other physicians also published supporting evidence for cannabis in migraine treatment.

 

Then the 1960s hit, where there was a resurgence of recreational marijuana use. This left a lasting and ongoing negative stigma of cannabis. Again, cue the visual hippie imagery of the 1967 Summer of Love and 1969 Woodstock festival. Unfortunately, many people who are not aware of cannabis history have been stuck in this mindset since…

 

The final nail in the coffin for legal cannabis use came with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This is what changed cannabis to its schedule 1 drug illegal status, of which it has remained since that time. The Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg, stated his reason as follows, “Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.”

 

Well, we are well past those studies Dr. Egeberg mentioned, and extensively more have been completed since then, yet cannabis remains federally illegal, despite all the evidence and vast amount of knowledge that we have gained from research. Thus, it is only a matter of time until the tide finally turns completely, and cannabis is rescheduled from Schedule 1 in my opinion.

 

So, cannabis has been a schedule 1 drug since 1970. Schedule 1 drugs also include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Ecstasy). According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, and have no accepted medical treatment use. If you are saying to yourself, that cannabis doesn’t seem like it fits into this category, you are certainly part of the majority opinion, which has shifted over the years. The DEA has continued to claim that cannabis has “no accepted medicinal use”, a statement which has no evidence to support it, but rather more evidence exists that disprove that claim.

 

Interestingly, despite this claim of no medicinal benefit, the US Government’s Department of Health and Human Services was awarded a patent (US Patent #6,630,507) for “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants” in 2003. Furthermore, the FDA has approved 3 synthetic versions of cannabinoids for medicinal purposes. Two are synthetic forms of THC (Dronabinol (Marinol), Nabilone (Cesamet)), and one is a purified form of CBD (Epidiolex). So, these statements and facts are clear contradictions to one another…

 

The schedule 1 classification has been a huge barrier preventing US federal funding for research and the legal ability to even proceed with research, although this has loosened up in recent years. This has historically been the primary hurdle in conducting medical research needed to obtain the evidence-based medicine in support of cannabis in the US. Meanwhile, many other countries such as Israel and Canada have been researching for years and have federal cannabis programs. For example, the Canadian equivalent to the US FDA is Health Canada. They have maintained a successful federal cannabis program for years. Despite this schedule 1 hurdle in the US, there has been accumulating evidence for various therapeutic benefits of cannabis, especially in the treatment of pain disorders.

 

In 1976, the FDA began an Investigational New Drug Program, after a glaucoma patient sued the government on grounds that cannabis was helping him, and won. This program closed in 1992, and 13 patients in the program at the time of closure were allowed to continue. Most recently, there were still 2 remaining who still receive monthly government supplied cannabis; one for multiple hereditary exostoses (painful bone tumor disorder), and the other for glaucoma. Access to this government supplied cannabis has since been controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the only federally approved cannabis source for decades has been from a farm at the University of Mississippi, who has had an ongoing contract with the federal government since 1968.

 

Through the 1990s-2000s, there was growing commentary from leading physicians and journals supporting cannabis for medicinal purposes. This has been accompanied by a growing push by medical organizations to reschedule cannabis to allow research and for patients who need it when they have failed all conventional treatments. Some of these organizations include American Academy of Neurology (AAN), American Medical Association (AMA), Epilepsy Foundation, American Journal of Public Health, and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

 

In 2013, Dr. Sanjay Gupta MD, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, issued a public apology article retracting his previous anti-marijuana stance which can be read here. He noted that “of more than 20,000 papers published in recent times, only 6% of the studies look at potential benefits of cannabis, while all the rest investigate potential harm, leading to an inherent bias and a profoundly distorted view.” He went on to further say:

“Well, I am here to apologize. I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis. Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the DEA listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.” They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

 

Dr, Gupta has done a series of documentaries on CNN about the medicinal benefits of cannabis and are very enlightening to watch. This change in Dr. Gupta’s public opinion was also occurring along with spreading anecdotal cases of children with refractory pediatric epilepsy who were improving dramatically with CBD extracts from cannabis. One of these children, Charlotte Figi, became the poster child for this movement. In fact, the cannabis strain bred and extracted for high CBD for these purposes (Charlotte’s Web), was named after her. Unfortunately, she died 4/7/20 at the age of 13, and was remembered here.

 

STATES WHERE MEDICAL AND RECREATIONAL (ADULT-USE) MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) ARE LEGAL.

The legal use of medicinal cannabis continues to increase globally, including the United States. In 1996, CA became the 1st state to pass the Compassionate Use Act, allowing the legal use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Since that time, legalized cannabis has continued to grow. As of 11/4/20, medical use of cannabis is legal in 35 states (AK, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, IL, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, ND, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, UT, VT, WA, WV) + Washington DC. Recreational marijuana use (“adult use”) is approved in 15 states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, IL, MA, ME, MI, MT, NJ, NV, OR, SD, VT, WA) + Washington DC. Despite a number of states legalizing cannabis use at the local level, it is still illegal federally in all states.

 

States which have medical cannabis programs have a list of qualifying conditions, which vary by state. The State Medical Board certifies doctors to “recommend” medical cannabis (Certificate to Recommend; CTR). The physician then confirms the qualifying condition and signs a “recommendation” form for potential benefit from medical cannabis. The patient then takes the recommendation to the local dispensary (which are also highly regulated by the state) and the patient discusses the best options there. However, it is important to remember that under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act), cannabis remains a schedule I drug, so doctors can’t “prescribe” cannabis. They can only “recommend” it. Also, interstate travel with any amount of cannabis or plant extract (including CBD products with THC content >0.3%) violates federal law and could potentially result in federal drug trafficking charges with stiff penalties of prison time and fines.

 

In 2009, the Justice Department sent a memorandum to federal prosecutors stating that patients and their providers should not face federal prosecution if they are following state law. In 2013 the Cole Memorandum was sent to US Attorney Generals, reinforcing that the Justice Department would not enforce federal prosecution in legal states who are following their state laws. In 2018, the Cole Memorandum was rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which sent shockwaves through the industry. However, President Trump has continued to reinforce his support in protecting states that have legalized cannabis from federal prosecution. There have been discussions of re-evaluating the rescheduling of cannabis to remove the federal schedule 1 illegality, and it is suspected to be only a matter of time until this eventually happens.

 

MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) USE FOR PAIN AND MIGRAINE.

In medical cannabis registries, the most commonly reported reason for cannabis use is chronic pain of various types. Because of the increasing evidence of cannabis in the treatment of pain, the Canadian Pain Society revised their consensus statement in 2014 to recommend cannabinoids as a third-level therapy for chronic neuropathic (nerve) pain based on the abundance of supporting evidence and a NNT (number needed to treat) estimated at approximately 3 (the number of patients needed to treat for 1 of them to receive benefit). In 2017, The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a statement that the use of cannabis for the treatment of pain is supported by well-controlled clinical trials and that there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults. In February 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that cannabis be rescheduled and removed from the most restrictive scheduling category.

 

Cannabis works through our endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a normal and important biological system within everyone which helps to maintain homeostasis. It plays a role in many regulatory physiological processes across all organ systems, and is widely distributed throughout the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system (nerves outside of the spinal canal). This system is involved in the “runner’s high” as well. Notably, it plays a very strong role in pain pathways. This system works by the interaction of our own natural endocannabinoids turning on or turning off various endocannabinoid receptors throughout our body.

 

Over 540 phytochemicals have been described in cannabis, 18 different chemical classes, and more than 100 different phytocannabinoids. THC and CBD have been the most researched and are considered the major cannabinoids. There are many additional cannabinoids referred to as minor cannabinoids. The quantities of major and minor cannabinoids are widely variable between different types of cannabis chemovars. There is evidence for analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects in many of the cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are unique to the cannabis plant, and can be thought of as the “plant equivalents” of our own endocannabinoids. So, they interact with the same endocannabinoid receptors in our body as our own endocannabinoids do. The existing literature and research on the treatment of pain have primarily studied cannabis itself with its variable and often undefined combinations of THC, CBD, other cannabinoids, terpenes, and other constituents. These compounds, especially cannabinoids and terpenes, play significant roles in influencing one another and working together. The synergy and interactions between these compounds are referred to as the “cannabis entourage effects”. Thus, the medicinal benefits of cannabis are suspected to be from the “entourage effects”, more so than any of the individual components alone.

 

THC is a major cannabinoid and the most researched in cannabis. THC causes the psychoactive qualities (“high”) of cannabis. THC has been shown to be 20 times more anti-inflammatory than aspirin and 2 times as anti-inflammatory as hydrocortisone. It is also a potent anti-emetic (anti-nausea), which is why there are two FDA-approved synthetic THC medications for chemotherapy related nausea and vomiting (Dronabinol, Nabilone). THC is the cannabinoid which is tested for in drug tests. It is important to know that most CBD products contain trace amounts of THC, although there are some varieties that do not. It is typically a negligible amount unlikely to show up on a drug test, but it is not completely risk free. You can read about the different types of CBD products here. THC can be detected by a variety of ways, although most commonly it is tested in the urine. Here are the general timeframes that it will show positive:

  • Blood:
    • Few hours to 1-2 days after a single use
    • In heavy users (multiple times a day), possibly up to a week
  • Saliva:
    • Appears in saliva an hour after use, detectable for up to 1-2 days
  • Urine:
    • 5-12 days after one-time use
    • 11-18 days when used 2-4 days/week
    • 33-48 days when used 5-6 days/week
    • Around 50-65 days if used daily (stored in adipose tissue)
  • Hair:
    • Generally 90 days, but some hair follicle tests can go back years

CBD is the other major cannabinoid and has gained a lot of attention as a therapeutic agent over the past several years given a wide range of reported anecdotal benefits. It is discussed in much greater detail here. In contrast to THC, CBD is non-intoxicating (no “high”). Furthermore, it helps to neutralize some of the negative THC side effects. CBD has been shown to be several hundred more times anti-inflammatory than aspirin. Greater than 65 molecular receptor targets and greater than 80 mechanisms of action have been identified. There have been scientific, animal models, and very limited human clinical trials documenting its anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. However, there are no high-quality research studies to date evaluating isolated pure CBD in any pain, migraine, or other headache disorders. So, it is unclear how much benefit CBD in isolation provides outside of the presumed entourage effects that it contributes to.

 

In November 2017, The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that CBD exhibits no evidence for abuse or dependence potential, and that there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with its use. In January 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from their prohibited list, no longer banning use by athletes. In December 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act (Farm Bill) was signed into law. This legalized the agricultural growth and use of hemp (cannabis strains containing 0.3% THC or less) and hemp derivatives such as CBD. The Farm Bill also removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, making it no longer an illegal substance under federal law. Up until the Farm Bill was passed, any form of cannabis or cannabis derivatives (including CBD) have been federally illegal since the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Therefore, it is important to remember that cannabis chemovars and CBD oils with greater than 0.3% THC are still illegal federally, require a medical cannabis card for use, and are illegal to cross state lines with. In May 2019, TSA began to allow travel with CBD products containing 0.3% or less of THC.

 

The terpenes account for many of the pharmacological properties of cannabis, as well as many medicinal herbs, plants and essential oils. They are the source of flavors, aromas, and other characteristics that help differentiate cannabis cultivars. Terpenes are often used in many household products such as limonene (citrus), pinene (pine, conifer), and linalool (lavender) to name just a few. Similar to the cannabinoids, many have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

 

WHAT TYPES OF MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) ARE THERE AND HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONE TO USE?

As discussed at the beginning of the blog above, there are many types of cannabis chemovars that vary widely in the composition of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds. These components work synergistically to produce wide variations in benefits, side effects, and chemovar characteristics. Different chemovars have different ratios of these compounds, and thus have different characteristics.

 

The older cultivar (strain, breed) classification system was based on strain appearance, smell, and clinical effects. Cannabis Sativa strains were generally described by patients as uplifting, energetic, creative, euphoria, spacey, cerebrally-focused effects, and better for day use, while cannabis Indica strains were typically described as calming, relaxing, sedative, full body effects such as “body buzz”, and better for night use. Cannabis ruderalis (hemp) strains were considered predominantly or purely high CBD without any real clinical use effects.

 

However, biochemical studies of specific strain names often do not accurately distinguish CBD and THC content, which was the predominant basis for strain classification. Strain characteristics and clinical effects are dependent on varying ratios of major and minor cannabinoids and terpenes, not only from CBD:THC ratios, as there are no significant differences in CBD:THC ratios between many Sativa and Indica strains when studied chemically. Most strains used today are hybrid strains genetically cross-bred for standardized CBD, THC, terpenes, and minor cannabinoid content.

 

The older cultivar classification system has evolved to the newer and more scientific chemovar (chemotype) classification system, and is divided into type I-III chemovars. This system allows medical users to find a chemical profile better matching their pharmacological needs.

 

Type I chemovars are THC predominant. They are high THC (>0.3%, but generally >10-20%), and low CBD (<0.5%, but generally <2%). They are very intoxicating, and associated with recreational more than medical use. They are moderately-heavily psychedelic with changes in perception and sensory awareness and have the potential for significant physiological changes in heart rate and blood pressure. They can intensify relief from symptoms like nausea or pain, so terminal cancer patients may be one of the few true medical uses for these chemovars.

 

Type II chemovars are more balanced THC and CBD. They are high THC (>0.3%, but generally 3%-10%), and high CBD (>0.5%, but generally 1%- 14%). They are intoxicating to a lesser degree than Type I chemovars. They can be mildly-moderately psychedelic with milder cerebral and cognitive changes in perception and sensory awareness possible. In general, they can be more effective at treating symptoms with less negative side effects.

 

Type III chemovars are CBD predominant. They are low THC (<0.3%, but generally 0%-1%), and high CBD (>0.5%, but generally 5%-20% or more). They have low to no intoxication side effects. There is little to no cognitive impairment for most, but there can be possible mild effects in sensitive users, depending on the THC content.

 

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR MARIJUANA (CANNABIS) USE FOR MIGRAINE?

The benefits of cannabis/cannabinoids in various chronic pain disorders has been well established. These benefits are suspected to likely extrapolate to headache disorders including migraine given overlapping neurobiological pathways of pain. There are some notable interactions and synergies between the cannabinoid receptors and pathways of migraine involving the trigeminovascular system (including the same receptors that the triptans work on) and serotonergic system. A more detailed discussion of this physiology can be read here and here. The medical literature regarding treatment of headache, migraine, and facial pain disorders shows limited supporting evidence for cannabis/cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic headaches, migraine including chronic migraine, medication overuse headache, cluster headache, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, and multiple sclerosis (MS) associated trigeminal neuralgia. However, the majority of this limited supporting evidence consists primarily of case series, case studies, case reports, surveys, clinical/anecdotal reports, and one retrospective analysis. There have been no placebo-controlled studies of cannabis for headache disorders or migraine thus far. There are only two prospective trials containing a control group evaluating the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of headache disorders, both of which showed benefit. The details and references of these studies and all of the smaller case studies mentioned can be read here and here.

 

Part of the difficulty in these types of trials, besides the federal illegality and the schedule 1 status of cannabis, is that there are so many variations of chemovars. It is unknown what chemovars and varieties of cannabis might be most helpful for migraine treatment. Most likely, it is not a one size fits all. Similar to how patients have a wide variety of therapeutic responses to abortive and preventive migraine treatments (what works for one person often does not work for another, etc.), responses to chemovars is probably similar. One person may respond very well to a specific chemovar, while another may respond better to a different one. Everyone is different, so like the trial and error process of trying different medications to see which may work best, cannabis chemovars most likely have a similar process.

 

With that said, there have been a couple studies evaluating a large medical cannabis registry, in an attempt to determine what chemovars patients with migraine and headache prefer to use. In one study, which can be read here, chemovars with high THC and low CBD were most preferred. “OG Shark” was the most preferred chemovar and consisted of high THC/THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and low CBD/CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), with predominant terpenes β-caryophyllene and β-myrcene. This could reflect the potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-emetic properties of THC, with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of β-caryophyllene and β-myrcene. Notably in that study, many headache patients replaced pharmaceuticals with cannabis, most commonly opiates/opioids (43.4% in headache patients, and up to 73% in chronic pain patients), anti-depressant/anti-anxiety (39%), NSAIDs (21%), triptans (8.1%), anticonvulsants (7.7%), muscle relaxers (7%), and ergots (0.4%).

 

In a follow up study (publication pending) 6 of the top 8 preferred chemovars were again high THC/low CBD, with “Headband” (22-24% THC, <1% CBD), “Warlock CBD” (8-11% THC, 8-11% CBD), and “Master Kush” (24-26% THC, <1% CBD) all tied for the top preferred cannabis chemovar. All three of these chemovars again had β-caryophyllene as one of their top 3 predominant terpenes, along with a mix of linalool, limonene, β-myrcene, bisabolol, and humulene as one of the top 3 predominant terpenes between them. There were 2 preferred chemovars which had high CBD and lower THC. They were “Warlock CBD” (8-11% THC, 8-11% CBD) which was in a 3-way tie for top preferred chemovar as mentioned above, and “Cannatonic” (3-7% THC, 6-10% CBD).

 

GENERAL SUGGESTIONS OF HOW TO USE MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS).

Cannabis can be used by smoked, vaporized, oral, oral-mucosal, topical, or rectal routes of administration. Oral routes cause a slower onset of action and a prolonged duration of action. Smoking and vaporizing cause the fastest onset of action and the shortest duration of action. Smoking is not recommended due to the production of unhealthy respiratory irritants and toxins. Vaporizing is a newer technique with a goal of suppressing irritating respiratory toxins by heating cannabis to a temperature where active cannabinoid vapors form, but below the point of combustion where smoke and associated respiratory toxins are produced.

 

Start low on the dose, go slow, and stay on as low of a dose as possible. This promotes tolerance to the THC psychoactive effects. Use the lowest dose THC possible, and use CBD and THC together because CBD helps to neutralize some of the negative THC side effects. Approximately 15-20% CBD with less than 1% THC is a good starting point to consider. CBD predominant preparations are better for working and daytime use, while THC predominant preparations are better for after work and at bedtime. Long acting oral formulations are better for chronic conditions and symptoms. Vaporization can be an as needed (prn) for episodic symptom exacerbations. Driving should be avoided for at least 4 hours after inhaled cannabis, 6 hours after ingested cannabis, and 8 hours if euphoria is experienced.

 

Common dosing quantities and terminology include one cannabis cigarette (“joint”) = 0.3-0.5 grams, one eighth = 3.5 grams, one quarter = 7 grams, and one ounce = 28 grams. Based on peer-reviewed literature, the majority of patients using smoked or orally ingested cannabis for medical purposes have been observed to use between approximately 10-20 grams of cannabis per week, 1-3 grams per day, and a frequency of 3-4 times daily. With that said, specific dosing recommendations are not available, and this is one area of much needed research in order to determine the best dosing for various disorders.

 

The matching of the proper chemovar to the proper patient will be widely variable based on the targeted symptoms and the patient’s experience with cannabis. The anti-pain effects of THC may need a Type I or Type II chemovar, although the side effect profile will be higher (highest with Type I). The anti-anxiety or anti-inflammatory effects of CBD may require a Type II or Type III chemovar. Type III chemovars will have the least risk of side effects. Patients new to cannabis should be started with a Type II or Type III chemovar and it can be adjusted as needed and as tolerated.

 

HOW DO YOU ESTIMATE THC CONTENT, WHAT IS THE BEST THC DOSE, AND HOW DO YOU USE THC?

For THC dosing, 1-2.5 mg is a good starting dose. For example, starting at bedtime and increase 1-2.5 mg every few days at bedtime or daytime (depending on treatment goals) until benefits or side effects are reached. At 5 mg THC, many will experience benefit without excess side-effects. At 10 mg, most will have side effects. At 15 mg or more it may cause psychiatric side effects. The total daily THC dose should be less than 20-30 mg to limit adverse effects and tolerance. In addition, THC should preferably be used with CBD as mentioned above because it helps to neutralized out some of the negative THC side effects. Use of high dose THC chemovars more than 5 grams per day of flower suggests possible tolerance or misuse, and is usually unjustified medically unless perhaps an end stage cancer patient.

The best way to estimate the mg of THC in flower to get the goal THC dose is as follows. Say that you have 1 gram (1000 mg) of flower (typical cannabis cigarette quantity) from a chemovar with 10% THC. That means 1 gram flower contains 100 mg THC (1000 mg x 10%)!! With that formula in mind, you can easily figure out the THC content by switching out those numbers of weight and THC percentage in the flower or product being used. Taking this example a step further, 30 mg would be just more than 1/3rd (30 mg THC goal / 100 mg THC), 20 mg THC would be 1/5th of the 1 gram flower quantity (20 mg THC goal / 100 mg THC), 10 mg THC would be 1/10th of the 1 gram flower quantity (10 mg THC goal / 100 mg THC), 5 mg THC would be 1/20th of the 1 gram flower quantity (5 mg THC goal / 100 mg THC), and so on. So the easiest way to fine tune your THC dose from your flower would be to divide 1 gram of flower into a specific fraction as outlined (depending on dosing goals), so you can know exactly how much to use and exactly how much THC you are ingesting.

 

WHAT IS THE BEST CBD DOSE AND HOW DO YOU USE CBD?

For CBD dosing, a good general guideline of how to begin CBD dosing with a gentle titration is as follows:

-Week 1: 5-10 mg at bedtime

-Week 2: 5-10 mg twice daily

-Weeks 3-4: 5-10 mg three times daily

-Weeks 5 onwards: 20 mg three times daily

It is suspected that high doses are likely needed for pain and inflammation disorders, but this needs to be clarified with research. There are no established dosing guidelines or max doses established. For reference, doses of 400-600 mg/day showed benefit in anxiety, doses of 600-800 mg/day showed benefit in psychosis, and doses up to 2500 mg/day (25-50 mg/kg) have been used in epilepsy studies.

 

SIDE EFFECTS AND ADVERSE REACTIONS OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA (CANNABIS).

Side effects are influenced by dose, method of administration, patient tolerance, chemovar of cannabis, ratios of THC to CBD, cannabinoids, terpenes, production quality control (toxins, fungus, bacteria, heavy metals, etc.) to name a few. Many studies have been inconclusive or contradictory in terms of association with stroke, heart attack. This publication provides the most comprehensive review of cannabis and its recognized side effects. The most common side effects (which vary depending on the chemovar) include dizziness, dry mouth, increased appetite, disturbances in concentration, and sedation/drowsiness. Less common side effects can include incoordination, euphoria, anxiety, and paranoid thinking. In the majority of trials, side effects have been well tolerated, mild to moderate, transient, and not bothersome enough that many patients withdrew from studies. Overdose can occur and is typically from high THC content and oral dosing. Signs may include tachycardia, arrhythmia, confusion, panic attack, extreme paranoia, and hallucinations.

 

From existing research, there is concern for possible long-term cognitive side effects of cannabis use during adolescent years when the brain is still rewiring, pruning, and organizing itself. Studies suggest a decline in IQ/neurocognitive function when used frequently under age 18. In adults, a larger study suggested problems in verbal memory recall after chronic cumulative use (after 5 years of cumulative frequent/chronic use, 1 in 2 people may recall 1 word less from a list of 15 words). Current users had both decreased verbal memory and processing speed.

 

According to “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research”, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in January 2017, the following are conclusions regarding cannabis side effects based on existing literature reviews.

 

For cardiovascular risk, there is limited evidence of cannabis triggering an acute MI (heart attack), ischemic stroke, or subarachnoid hemorrhage. There is no evidence to support or refute chronic cannabis use and increased risk of acute heart attack.

 

For cancer risk, there is moderate evidence of no association between the incidence of lung cancer (cannabis smoking), or the incidence of head and neck cancers. There is no or insufficient evidence to support associations with other cancers.

 

For respiratory disease risk, there is substantial evidence for worse respiratory symptoms and more frequent chronic bronchitis episodes (long-term cannabis smoking).

 

For neurocognitive risk, there is moderate evidence of impairment in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention with acute cannabis use, but limited evidence for persistent impairments in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention after sustained cannabis abstinence.

 

For mental health risk, there is substantial evidence for development of schizophrenia or other psychoses in those at risk genetically, with the highest risk among the most frequent users. There is moderate evidence for increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in bipolar disorder. There is a small increased risk of depressive disorders and an increased incidence of social anxiety disorder. There is an increased incidence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts with higher incidence in heavier users, and an increased incidence of suicide completion.

 

For prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal exposure, there is substantial evidence between maternal cannabis smoking and lower birth weight. During lactation, the amount reaching the infant is very low, although the effects of this are unknown. Therefore, it is recommended to not use cannabis in either pregnancy or breastfeeding.

 

There is substantial evidence for an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. There is moderate evidence for increased risk of overdose, especially among pediatric populations. There is no or insufficient evidence for all-cause mortality, and there has been no documented death exclusively attributed to cannabis overdose or use. Cannabis has been shown in toxicology studies to be 114 times less lethal than alcohol. In fact, the deadliest substances in one toxicology study in order were alcohol, heroin, cocaine, tobacco, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and lastly, cannabis.

 

WHAT IS CANNABIS HYPEREMESIS SYNDROME AND HOW DO YOU TREAT IT?

Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) has become increasingly seen as states legalize cannabis. It presents with clinical symptoms of cyclical nausea/vomiting, diffuse abdominal pain, and the need to take frequent hot showers (this is a pathognomonic sign).

 

Episodes of these symptoms last 24-48 hours, may last 7-10 days, and often recur with re-exposure of cannabis. CHS tends to be associated with high-dose, high-THC regular cannabis use. It can be confused with CVS (cyclical vomiting syndrome), and is differentiated by a history of chronic cannabis use and frequent hot bathing which produces temporary relief. The etiology (cause) of CHS is not fully understood. It has been theorized that there is a dysregulation of the endogenous cannabinoid system by downregulation of CB1 (cannabinoid 1) receptors, and in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract this may slow gastric motility, causing hyperemesis. Genetic differences in the cytochrome P450 system (enzymes in the liver which metabolize drugs) has also been proposed. The TRPV1 receptor in our bodies interacts with the endocannabinoid system. More specifically, anandamide (our main natural endocannabinoid) works at this receptor (one of many). Interestingly, this receptor is also the capsaicin receptor, and is activated by heat such as in hot peppers (which contain capsaicin). Therefore, it has also been proposed that perhaps the fact that these patients take frequent hot showers/baths for relief is because they are indirectly activating their endocannabinoid system.

 

Treatment of CHS revolves around cannabis cessation. There is no way around it. Supportive therapy can assist with fluid resuscitation. Capsaicin 0.075% topically to areas of the abdomen, back of arms, and areas that hot water gives symptom relief have shown some benefit (not using on private areas or mucosal surfaces). Antipsychotics such as Haloperidol and Olanzapine showed some temporary benefit. Conventional antiemetics, antihistamines, serotonin antagonists, benzodiazepines have shown limited evidence for effectiveness, and opiates should be avoided.

 

CANNABIS (MARIJUANA) ADDICTION AND ABUSE

Comparative addiction rates between substances have included tobacco 32%, heroin 23%, cocaine 17%, alcohol 15%, and lastly cannabis 9% (but 17% when used in adolescence, and 25-50% in adolescents who are using daily). Tolerance develops much faster with high potency high THC chemovars.

The DSM-5 recognizes 5 cannabis-associated disorders:

-Cannabis Use Disorder

-Cannabis Intoxication

-Cannabis Withdrawal

-Other Cannabis-Induced Disorders (Cannabis Intoxication Delirium, Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder, Cannabis Induced Anxiety Disorder, Cannabis Induced Sleep Disorder

-Unspecified Cannabis-Related Disorder

 

An estimated 3-4% of users meet criteria for Cannabis Use Disorder. The prevalence decreases with age, with the highest ages 18-29 years old (4.4%), and lowest ages 65 and older (0.01%). Cannabis Use Disorder is divided into mild (2-3 criteria), moderate (4-6 criteria), and severe (7 or more criteria). These criteria include any of the following:

  • Cravings and urges to use cannabis
  • Failure to fulfill major role obligations (work, school or home)
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit/cut down
  • Spends excessive time in acquisition, using or recovering from use
  • Using Cannabis in larger amounts or for longer than you meant to (tolerance)
  • Continued use despite consistent social or interpersonal problems
  • Recurrent use in hazardous situations
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of cannabis use
  • Needing more cannabis to get the effect you want (Tolerance)
  • Uses despite negative effects (physical or psychological)
  • Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance

 

IF YOU HAVE HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN AND ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS ON ANYTHING RELATED TO IT, A HEADACHE SPECIALIST IS HERE TO HELP, FOR FREE!

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