This article by Alexa Julianne was originally published on Psychedelic Spotlight and appears here with permission.
With mounting evidence to support the use of psychedelics in treating serious disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety — the sector is now beginning to focus on more highly specialized conditions like headaches.
Psychedelics such as psilocybin “truly have the potential to revolutionize how we treat several neuropsychiatric diseases, including headaches,” said one neuropharmacologist at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society. Due to the fact that headaches can affect a variety of people, and can range from mild to extremely incapacitating, research is currently ongoing for four different headache types, with psilocybin being the current emphasis
Cluster headaches have been gaining the most attention with psychedelic research because of the severity of symptoms. Cluster headaches can happen up to 8 times per day, are excruciatingly painful, and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours. According to the American Migraine Foundation, cluster headaches are named for the manner they occur throughout the day in spontaneous, severe bursts.
One victim of cluster headaches explicitly stated, “I came pretty close to ending my life over it,” resulting in the nickname “suicide headaches.” Cluster headaches dominate the list of the most painful headache types. Cluster headaches were compared to other painful conditions and circumstances, including gunshot wounds, pancreatitis, and stab wounds in a significant international study. With an average pain score of 9.7 on a 10-point scale, cluster headaches were rated as the most painful condition, with labor pain coming in second at 7.2. As the headaches affect 0.1 percent of the population, it is not a rare condition, according to the vice president of the cluster headache non-profit organization, Clusterbusters.
For the treatment of cluster headaches, no specific pharmaceuticals have yet been discovered. However, three treatment modalities are typically used: quick attack-freezing abortive treatment, transitional treatment, and preventive treatment.
- Effective abortive therapies: sumatriptan, high-flow oxygen, and occasionally intranasal triptans.
- Preventive treatment: Verapamil and lithium are prescribed as preventive drugs. However, due to their potential negative effects on the heart, kidney, and liver, verapamil and lithium are frequently ineffective and even cannot be prescribed or stopped utilizing. The succeeding option is topiramate. Doctors may choose melatonin, clomiphene, dihydroergotamine, pizotifen, etc. if these medications don’t work.
- Transitional treatments: these are frequently preferred because the effects of preventative medications may take several weeks to manifest. The most successful transitional therapy involves higher doses of prednisone, greater occipital nerve injection, and frovatriptan.
However, none of the above treatments work for everyone or very consistently. Surveys have shown that out of desperation for relief, people are trying many alternative treatments on their own, including psychedelics.
One of the first of these surveys was conducted in 2006 by Dr. Halpern and colleagues after someone contacted Halpern claiming that psychedelic drugs had completely cured his cluster headaches. He said he had been diagnosed with cluster headaches and that after taking LSD recreationally, he completely recovered from all symptoms.
Halpern’s survey results from 53 respondents showed that psilocybin and LSD both held the potential to have a significant impact on the frequency and severity of cluster headaches. Of the 29 people who used psilocybin in the middle of a cluster period, 27 (93 percent) said it was effective. To elaborate, 52 percent of those said it completely stopped the attack, while 41 percent said it reduced the attack’s intensity or frequency. For 18 of 19 psilocybin users and 4 of 5 LSD users, psychedelics also increased remission …