The Research of Psychedelics for Cluster Headaches (Part 2)

Welcome back for Part Two about psychedelic research for cluster headaches. In the first part of this series, we learned how a cluster headache patient in Scotland discovered the therapeutic effect of psychedelics for cluster headaches in the late 1990s. The Harvard study results published in 2006 spawned more interest and research into these substances for cluster headaches and migraine disease.

Psychedelics for cluster headaches in the media

The research results from Harvard gained national attention in a variety of ways. The popular show House developed two episodes on headache disorders and psychedelics. Season 3, Episode 23, "The Jerk," starts with a patient experiencing cluster headaches. Dr. House gives him psilocybin mushrooms, and the attacks stop immediately. Of course, it wouldn't be an episode of House if it didn't spiral from there, so it's only the first 5-10 minutes that discuss cluster headaches. The other is Season 2, Episode 12, "Distractions," where Dr. House takes LSD for a migraine attack.

A cluster headache patient was featured on a National Geographic Special discussing treating his attacks with psilocybin mushrooms. The short video follows Dan Ervin and his family as he discusses "busting" with psilocybin and even films his "trip" experience.9

What is BOL-148?

The success of the Harvard study left patients and researchers wanting more information. They wanted to know if the hallucinogenic aspect of psychedelics were necessary to get results for cluster headaches. "2-Bromo-LSD," or BOL-148, is a non-hallucinogenic ergotamine-based substance that scientists at Hannover Medical School in Germany studied.4

Research on BOL-148

Hannover researchers administered cluster headache patients involved in this study a BOL-148 dosage of 30ug/kg every five days for three total treatments. The clinical trial was small, with just four participants. These results published in 2011:4

  • 3 patients had full or near-complete remission for at least 2 months after the third dose of BOL-148
  • The 4th patient had fewer attacks (73%) for 4 months and pain reduction (30%) for 2 months
  • Hannover researchers concluded that BOL-148 might be a non-hallucinogenic alternative treatment for cluster headaches

There hasn't been much more research into BOL-148 because of patent issues, but a new study could be in the works soon.

Yale University neurologist weighs in

Yale University has ongoing clinical trials for psilocybin mushrooms and cluster headaches. They're also studying the psychedelic compound in migraine patients. Like the Harvard Study and Clusterbusters "busting" protocol, Yale researchers give patients 3 doses of psilocybin separated by 5 days. They are focused on the impact of one dose right now and hope to research the effect of repeated "busting" next. The trial is still underway, so the results are not available yet7.

Research goes a long way

Research studies such as the Harvard and Yale trials go a long way in helping cluster headache patients. For decades, clusterheads only had "hand-me-down" treatment options for other disorders such as high blood pressure and migraine disease. These psychedelics, along with the CGRP medication FDA-approved for episodic (Emgality®), provide hope for a better quality of life.

A desperate need for more treatment options

"Most of the reports about psychedelics in headache were in cluster headache," says Dr. Emmanuelle Schindler, Neurologist from Yale School of Medicine. "Cluster headache desperately needs more treatment options and more effective treatments. Above all this, though, once you meet a cluster headache patient, you're hooked. You want to help and use all the tools at your disposal to do so. My background in psychedelics was one of those tools."

Decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms in the U.S.

Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are making a big splash in the United States right now. Denver, Colorado, was the first city to decriminalize the natural psychedelic in 2019, followed by Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan, the State of Oregon, and Washington, DC, are the most recent U.S. places to decriminalize the psychedelic.1,6 These voter-passed initiatives make "magic mushrooms" the lowest priority for law enforcement in all of these locations.6

Oregon's Initiative 34 didn't just decriminalize but established a system in which licensed providers could administer psilocybin mushrooms to patients with specific mental health disorders.6 The cities that passed decriminalization measures won't arrest or investigate anyone for the possession, distribution, cultivation, transportation, purchase, or planting of psilocybin-containing mushrooms.1 These measures are enormous wins for people with cluster headaches, mental health conditions, migraine disease, and other conditions that may benefit from psychedelic treatment.

What doctors need to know

A Medication Use Survey but Clusterbusters, Inc. found that cluster headache patients got more preventive relief with LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and LSA seeds than prescription medications such as Verapamil and Prednisone.7 Doctors treating cluster headache patients must know they are using these psychedelic compounds to treat their condition.

Physicians should ask what substance, how much, how often, and the quality or source of the psychedelic, so they are aware of the risks. Some concerns, such as heart problems and a stroke history, put patients at a higher risk for complications from psychedelic use, even low doses. Patients should never take them when they're alone or in an unsafe setting.

What it all means for headache disorders

The published research and ongoing study of psychedelics for cluster headaches and migraine disease give us hope for better, more effective treatments on the horizon. These tryptamines are slowly being decriminalized across the United States, making this an exciting time for patients who don't respond to traditional options. 

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