As new research into the use of psychedelics for therapeutic applications continues to expand, psychologists, doctors, and researchers are beginning to better understand and appreciate the value of non-ordinary states of consciousness for treating conditions like PTSD, addiction, social anxiety, and much more. But even beyond the increasingly-recognized therapeutic value of psychedelic experiences, psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms are now being heralded as having highly valuable medical applications in low, pre-hallucinogenic doses. One serious health condition that these substances are helping to fight, and, in some cases cure is cluster headaches. The implications of psychedelics in treating physical and non-psychological pain is surprising to many, and can lead to a better understanding of the connection between the mind and body.
Cluster headaches are one of the most excruciating experiences known to man, giving a sensation likened to an ice-pick being shoved through your eye socket and brain. Sufferers of cluster headaches often have multiple attacks per day during certain seasons of the year, and the pain is so intense that it prevents them from participating in normal society. They have earned the name of “suicide headaches” because the suicide rates for cluster headache sufferers is 20 times the national average.
Traditional treatments for cluster headaches are varied, limited in their effectiveness, and often have serious physical and psychological side effects, leading one sufferer to proclaim, “The disease won’t kill you, but the treatments might.” These long term side effects include organ fibrosis, blood pressure and heart issues, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and mental disorders.[1. “Treating Cluster Headaches with Psychedelic Drugs.” https://www.newsweek.com/treating-cluster-headaches-psychedelic-drugs-81473] It is no wonder that cluster headache sufferers have sought out alternative treatments and joined together in groups like the nonprofit Cluster Busters to support each other and advocate for more research into their condition. One of the most promising alternative treatments that they are looking into involves taking LSD or psilocybin mushrooms in low doses. While it is certainly controversial, it appears to be hugely effective.
While there are currently no clinical trials for the use of LSD or psilocybin mushrooms in the treatment of cluster headaches, researchers R. Andrew Sewell, John H. Halpern and Harrison G. Pope, Jr carried out interviews with 53 cluster headache sufferers who had self-medicated with these substances to treat their condition. The anecdotal evidence was astonishing:
- 22 of 26 psilocybin users reported that psilocybin aborted attacks.
- 25 of 48 psilocybin users and 7 of 8 LSD users reported cluster period termination.
- 18 of 19 psilocybin users and 4 of 5 LSD users reported remission period extension.[2. Medical Research, Reports, Studies, Case Reports Links: https://clusterbusters.org/medical-research-reports-studies-case-reports-links/]
With such a painful condition and a stark lack of effective treatment options, it is no wonder that groups like Cluster Busters are advocating for more research into LSD and psilocybin. As with many psychedelic treatments, when compared to their traditional prescription drug counterparts they come with the huge benefits of requiring very few doses and having essentially no side effects outside of the time in which they are taken. The latter is even more pronounced when concerning cluster headaches, where dosages of the psychedelics are low and hallucinogenic effects are mild to nonexistent.
While science and medicine are still conservative and slow-going in their acceptance of psychedelics, the facts show that these treatments need to be researched, understood, and made available as soon as possible to help sufferers of cluster headaches and other conditions. As Bob Wold, the founder of Cluster Busters, states: “When I see people committing suicide because they don’t have anything to treat their headaches, it’s amazing to me that anyone would keep an option from someone at that point.”[3. “Longtime Sufferers of Cluster Headaches Find Relief in Psychedelics.” https://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/05/longtime-sufferers-of-cluster-headaches-find-relief-in-psychedelics.html]