Back to MAPS Medical Marijuana Page
Short Term Effects of Cannabinoids in HIV Infection

Cannabis in Migraine Treatment Study

February 2000. While Dr. Russo is seeking to study cannabis in the treatment of migraines, he has discussed patient reports and biological studies that suggest a variety of psychedelics could also be helpful to patients with migraines and cluster headaches.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis O'Connor []
Sent: Saturday, February 19, 2000 11:19 PM
Subject: Cluster headaches

Dear Dr. Russo,

I have been reading about your research on the web. Have any of your studies taken you into the field of Cluster Headaches? I ask because our message board at has recently seen quite a few posts about using liberty cap mushrooms to treat Clusters. This is one of the most recent: We are having a convention in August. The info is at the site. It may or may not interest you.
If you have any info on the effects of mushrooms or any other plant aiding those of us who suffer from theses attacks please let me know. We would appreciate any info you have.


Dear Dennis,

We are in a touchy area here, inasmuch as Psilocybe mushrooms are illegal in most countries. Their potencies vary. An untrained person can not know absolutely whether a given mushroom is the species they desire, let alone its potency. It might be a fine line between a dose that alleviates headache, and one that produces a blowout 4 hour psychedelic trip. Obviously, I can not specifically recommend this treatment as something that you or anyone else should try.
With that caveat aside, my research of the last decade has revolved around the ethnobotanical treatment of migraine (and related cluster headache) with plants. An interesting pattern is seen extremely frequently: The same plants that are hallucinogenic (psychedelic/entheogenic) in high dosages are employed to treat headache at lower doses. Bizarre? Well, not really. I can give many examples: cannabis, peyote (mescaline), several plants of the Machiguenga tribe (see 2nd and 3rd URL below), ergot alkaloids (that give us LSD, methysergide and others), and yes, Psilocybe mushrooms. All fit the pattern.
Back to your question, I have heard from various people that a small dose of mushrooms applied sublingually (under the tongue), knocks out migraine acutely. Some tribes in Mexico use small doses of peyote to treat headache also. For a time, in the late 19th century, there were medical journal reports of treating migraine with "Anhalonium" (Lophophora williamsii = peyote) tincture.
Why would this be? The postings I saw at the URL you recommended sound nice, but are inadvertently superficial. The real reason the mushrooms may work is neurochemical. The following article is dated to some degree, but provides the basic idea:

Peroutka, S.J., "Developments in 5-hydroxytryptamine Receptor Pharmacology in Migraine", in Mathew, N. (Ed.), Headache, Neurologic Clinics of North America 8:829-839, 1990.

It says that to treat migraine (and cluster) acutely, one desires a drug or plant that will stimulate serotonin type 1 (1A or 1D) receptors. To treat headaches preventively, one desires a drug or plant that will inhibit serotonin type 2A receptors (see 3rd URL). It may turn out that there are additional effects on NMDA receptors, but this will suffice for now. Interestingly, these serotonin effects may be one of the key mechanisms of hallucinogenesis. All the examples I gave above fit this profile. The problem develops then, that we have available a very fertile area of research that could alleviate the suffering of many migraine and cluster patients. However, many such agents are Schedule I drugs, meaning that the DEA and US Government consider them prohibitively dangerous, and possessing no recognized medical usage. The law is blind and biased. As a result, I have had shoestring funding of my theories, and have been unable after 3 years of effort to begin a clinical trial of cannabis in migraine treatment (1st URL).
Please feel free to share this posting, and URL's with your fellow patients. What is needed in this country is for groups like yours to rally politically so that work in this area can proceed to provide safe and effective treatments for cluster and other diseases.

Best wishes,
Ethan Russo, MD

Read more about MAPS' support of Dr. Russo's research

Read more about MAPS' support of medical marijuana research