CALIFORNIA: Those who suffer from migraines may be familiar with a family of drugs known as Triptans.
While once thought to exert their effects by regulating serotonin levels, a team from the University of California’s Department of Neurology believe the headache relievers may be working via natural cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) as well.
Lead investigator Simon Akerman, Ph.D explained his latest findings to us in an interview. What it indicates is that endocannabinoids are naturally involved with the brain’s modulation of pain mechanisms.
Published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers conducted experiments on rodent models and found that drugs that mimic the effects of THC, in specific areas of the brain, were able to reduce pain signals known to play a role in headaches.
Interestingly, the effects were reversed when the researchers administered a drug that blocks the pathways that Triptans are known to act on.
Part of what we wanted to do was to demonstrate this endocannabinoid mechanism is modulated by drugs which were already used as a treatment for migraine. It looks like these receptor systems, in essence, talk to each other already, further implicating that endocannabinoid modulation may be involved with the pathophysiology of migraine.
While cannabinoids have been shown to have wide-ranging effects on pain, their role in migraines is lesser known. Part of it comes from the complexity of disorder as well as the involvement of the brain itself.
We think that part of the problem with migraineurs is that certain areas of the brain are slightly different in how they process and modulate this nociceptive information.
But the latest findings suggest that cannabinoids may contribute to this difference, by affecting pain systems between the brainstem and trigeminal nerve.
What we’re hypothesizing is the fact that this dysfunction may alter the way in which the endocannabinoid system is modulating the information coming from the face and the head.
While Triptans are the most common class of migraine drugs, their effects only provide temporary relief – and only in a portion of all headache sufferers.
Dr. Akerman says while more research needs to be done, the hope is that a clearer understanding of how the cannabinoid system affects migraines may lead the way to more lasting treatments.