MAPS is developing research into the use of psilocybin and LSD in the treatment of cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are a rare, severely painful form of headache that is related to but different from the more common migraine. Dr. Peter Goadsby, the world's leading researcher on cluster headaches, has commented, "The pain of a cluster headache is worse than natural childbirth or even amputation without anesthetic." The pain of a cluster headache commences quickly, without warning, and reaches a crescendo within 2 to 15 minutes. It is often excruciating in intensity, and is deep, nonfluctuating, and explosive in quality. People may have episodic or chronic cluster headaches; currently, this research focuses on episodic cluster headaches. Episodic cluster headaches occur periodically, often occurring at the same time each year. During a cycle, a person with episodic cluster headaches will experience an average of one to three headaches per day, with frequency ranging from one headache every other day to eight per day.
Conventional treatments include treatments for stopping headache pain as it occurs (abortives), and treatments that reduce the occurrence or re-occurrence of cluster headaches (prophylaxis). Abortive treatments include Imitrex (sumatriptan) and other triptans, non-psychedelic ergotamines, and pure oxygen, and prophylaxes include the ergotamine methysergide, lithium (used to treat bipolar affective disorder) and calcium channel blockers (medication used to treat high blood pressure). Up to 30% of people with cluster headaches cannot prevent headaches from occurring with conventional prophylactic treatments, and because there are limits on the number of daily doses of triptans for treating headaches as they occur, some people may not be able to stop every headache they have once it occurs. As well, use of abortive and preventive medications has risks (for instance, a monthly blood test for serum lithium levels is required when taking lithium), and some cluster headache sufferers report that prophylaxes can "wear out" over time.
Case reports suggest that ingesting psilocybin (as through psilocybin-containing mushrooms) or LSD can reduce cluster headache pain and, more significantly, can interrupt cluster headache cycles so that no more headaches will occur. MAPS is supporting John Halpern MD and Andrew Sewell MD in analyzing and organizing responses to a questionnaire posted on www.clusterbusters.com, an organization run by and for people with cluster headaches and supporting the use of psilocybin, LSD and other related substances as treatments for cluster headaches. A survey is also on the Vaults of Erowid for people who have used psychedelics in the treatment of cluster headaches and migraines. Data from both surveys will be used by John H. Halpern MD and Andrew Sewell MD in developing a research study directly investigating psilocybin and LSD as a potential abortive and prophylactic (cycle-interrupting) treatment for cluster headaches. Initially, this research will focus on studying people with episodic cluster headaches; future research may include people with episodic and chronic cluster headaches.
Drs. Halpern and Sewell are currently developing a randomized, dose-response study of psilocybin and LSD in people with episodic cluster headaches. If approved by the McLean IRB and the FDA, this research study will take place at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility and research hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School. The investigators are currently working on designing a pilot study wherein people will be assigned to receive low or higher doses of psilocybin or LSD to see whether these substances will interrupt an ongoing cluster headache cycle. If study results are promising, then further research studies will be designed and conducted. We hope that this research program will lead to psilocybin and LSD becoming legal, prescription treatments for the interruption of cluster headaches and cluster headache cycles.
Currently, there is no legal research with LSD in humans taking place in the world, and we hope that this will be the first study to renew human research with LSD.
Marsha and David Weil have donated $50,000 for this research effort and Joseph Leonard has donated $2,000. An estimated $108,000 in addition is being sought to support this clinical trial.
Donations to support research on psilocybin and LSD as cluster headache treatments are needed, MAPS will allocate 100% of any donation specifically restricted to this study.