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Cannabis reduces headache and migraine pain by nearly half

Carrie Cuttler.

Inhaled cannabis reduces self-reported headache severity by 47.3% and migraine severity by 49.6%, according to a recent study led by Carrie Cuttler, a Washington State University assistant professor of psychology.

The study, published online recently in the Journal of Pain, is the first to use big data from headache and migraine patients using cannabis in real time. Previous studies have asked patients to recall the effect of cannabis use in the past. There has been one clinical trial indicating that cannabis was better than ibuprofen in alleviating headache, but it used nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid drug.

“We were motivated to do this study because a substantial number of people say they use cannabis for headache and migraine, but surprisingly few studies had addressed the topic,” said Cuttler, the lead author on the paper.

In the WSU study, researchers analyzed archival data from the Strainprint app, which allows patients to track symptoms before and after using medical cannabis purchased from Canadian producers and distributors. The information was submitted by more than 1,300 patients who used the app over 12,200 times to track changes in headache from before to after cannabis use, and another 653 who used the app more than 7,400 times to track changes in migraine severity.

“We wanted to approach this in an ecologically valid way, which is to look at actual patients using whole plant cannabis to medicate in their own homes and environments,” Cuttler said. “These are also very big data, so we can more appropriately and accurately generalize to the greater population of patients using cannabis to manage these conditions.”

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Moving from prison to a PhD

Nature spoke to three US researchers who have built academic careers after they were released.

Most applications to academic institutions around the world include a box to check if a student has a criminal history, but a ‘ban the box’ movement is now under way. Last year, the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) — which manages application to all British universities — dropped its criminal-history question. And in August, the US Common Application, used by 800 colleges and universities, removed the question — although individual institutions can still ask it.

A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation1, a think tank in Santa Monica, California, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education programmes were 43% less likely to return to prison after release than were those who did not.

Although 2.3 million people are currently in US prisons, fewer than 5% of people get university degrees — making them 8 times less likely to complete their education than the general public. Fewer still pursue PhDs. Nature spoke to three US researchers who went from prison to PhD programmes to senior posts in academia, and who now aim to help others to find their academic footing.

Noel Vest.

NOEL VEST: Value lived experience
Postdoc at Stanford University, California

“In 2003, my struggles with alcohol and drugs resulted in a 7-year prison sentence in Nevada for drug possession and identity theft, crimes that followed a spiral of addiction after my business and relationship failed at age 21. I began taking psychology courses in prison and, after my release, continued at the Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington, with the goal of becoming a drug and alcohol counsellor. Then an instructor told me that my writing ability could get me into graduate school.

“I didn’t know what graduate school entailed, but this watershed moment started me on a scientific path. I pursued a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Washington State University in Richland, while working as a counsellor. Seeing how science influenced treatment opened my eyes to a new world, and I was accepted into graduate school at the university’s Pullman campus 2014.”

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Graduate School associate dean named

Tammy Barry.
Tammy Barry

Tammy Barry is a new associate dean in the Graduate School.

Barry is a professor in the Department of Psychology and currently serves as the director of the clinical psychology doctoral program. She joined WSU in 2015 following two previous tenure‑track/tenured positions at Texas A&M University and the University of Southern Mississippi. She has served as the committee chair and advisor for more than 20 doctoral students and has published 40 peer‑reviewed papers, with another 35 additional published books, chapters, and other works.

At WSU she has served in numerous service roles, including on the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Senate Steering Committee. She is in her fourth year as co‑chair of Faculty Senate’s Research and Arts Committee and has co‑chaired two University-wide task forces. She also serves on the national Board of Directors of the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology, for which she was recently elected secretary.

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Building a new generation of female leaders in higher ed

Research shows the associate professor rut, where faculty linger at a mid-rank position for years and sometimes indefinitely, is not only very real but also disproportionally affects women, particularly in STEM fields.

The National Science Foundation reports that women comprise only 21 percent of full professors in science fields and 5 percent of full professors in engineering despite earning about half the doctorates in science and engineering in the nation.

Masha Maria Gartstein.

Maria Gartstein was nevertheless able to beat the trend. She is now a full professor in the WSU Department of Psychology and her research on infant development is being featured in an upcoming Netflix documentary.

She said one of the keys to her success was participating in the WSU External Mentor Program, an experience so worthwhile she’s building on its approach with the help of a new $1.2 million NSF grant supporting education leadership development for women in STEM.

The External Mentor Program connects WSU female faculty members with off-campus academic leaders. It was created with support from the NSF in 2008 as part of WSU ADVANCE, an initiative designed to promote institutional transformation, increasing diversity in the highest ranks of STEM at WSU.

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Expert: Vaping bans will escalate health crisis, not fix it

In early October, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced his intent to ban all flavored vaping products statewide. And while even more stringent vaping bans have picked up steam across the U.S., one expert claims that full-on prohibition could actually do more harm than good.

Susan Collins.

“The problem with bans and prohibitions in this country’s history is that it’s such an absolute rule that there are then unregulatable products,” said Susan Collins, psychology professor at Washington State University and co-director of a medical research center at the University of Washington.

While not speaking on behalf of either university, she underscored the importance of thinking twice about a ban on vaping products, in the wake of a rash of illnesses.

“We need to take a step back and in a calm, collected, methodical way, parse through the science, and understand what is involved in vaping behavior, and what parts of it can be made more safe,” she said.

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