Cluster headaches are one of the more painful and crippling conditions that afflict human beings, often driving sufferers to the brink of suicide and beyond. Conventional medicine has no answers — but patients are finding much-needed relief through psychedelic substances.
No one knows what causes cluster headaches, but far too many people feel their effects: An eye pick through the eye. A demon crushing your skull. Worse than a severe migraine. That’s how people described their cluster headaches in this Newsweek story. Most pharmaceutical treatments are only marginally effective at best, and many have awful side effects. However, when every other remedy has failed, people who suffer from cluster headaches have found success using a technique called “busting,” treating the headaches with repeated doses of psilocybin or LSD.
“Psilocybin and LSD are proven effective for treating cluster headaches,” Robert Wold wrote in a newsletter for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “In many cases these treatment methods end a cluster headache cycle and prevent a cluster headache cycle from returning.”
Wold, founder of the Clusterbusters group, which promotes research and awareness of psychedelic cluster headache treatment, estimates there are about 400,000 people who suffer from cluster headaches in the United States. “The publicity that continues to be generated through medical journals, documentaries, and major news outlets has educated thousands of patients, enabling them to make fact based decisions on the use of psychedelics as a treatment option,” he wrote.
Indeed, psilocybin has changed the lives of cluster headache sufferers like John Fletcher. Fletcher, who published his story on Reset last year, tried busting his headaches with psilocybin doses in 2014 after 35 years of intense pain that no pharmaceutical intervention could relieve. “It has been three months since my last dose and I have been completely CH free!” he wrote. “I just can’t say enough about it and being CH free has completely changed my life.”
There is more than just anecdotal reports to back up the effectiveness of psychedelics. A 2006 Yale study published in the Neurology journal interviewed 53 people who used psilocybin or LSD to treat their cluster headaches. “Twenty-two 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,” the study claims. “Research on the effects of psilocybin and LSD on cluster headache may be warranted.”
In 2010, scientists followed up with a non-psychotropic chemical related to LSD and found that it was also effective in stopping cluster headaches. Researchers speculate that the substances work by shrinking the brain’s blood vessels, which stops the nerves from being pinched.
There is one major catch to psychedelic cluster headache treatment, of course: Both psilocybin and LSD are strictly prohibited in the United States by the federal government, which considers them drugs of abuse with no medical value. That not only means that further research is difficult to perform, it also requires sufferers to break the law to acquire and use the substances, risking their freedom and their livelihood in order to try the only remedy that can put a stop to their misery.