Can Magic Mushrooms or LSD Help Ease Your Cluster Headaches?

Some people use these illegal drugs in an effort to get some relief

Magic mushrooms
Diverse Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Cluster headaches are excruciatingly painful — possibly the most painful headaches possible. They also can be very difficult to treat. So it's no wonder that sufferers consider turning to illicit drug treatments such as so-called "magic mushrooms" or the illegal hallucinogenic drug LSD to dull their pain.

But do these treatments, which are illegal and can be dangerous, actually work?

That's not clear — because LSD and hallucinogenic mushroom-based drugs are illegal, no clinicians are conducting trials on them.

Surveys of cluster headache sufferers indicate they might actually help some people, including people for whom conventional drug treatments have failed. However, surveys also suggest that those people using them may be significantly underestimating their dangers.

Risks of Mushrooms and LSD

LSD (or lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin (found in more than 200 different species of mushrooms) are psychadelic compounds that alter your perception of reality by acting on certain neural circuits in your brain. They can induce "good trips" (feelings of euphoria) and "bad trips" (panic attacks, paranoia and terrifying thoughts).

Both are illegal drugs, with significant and escalating legal penalties for use and distribution. They also carry major health risks: users of LSD, in particular, can misjudge a situation while high and accidentally kill themselves. Regular users of both drugs may experience persistent problems of psychosis, anxiety, depression or violent behavior.

In addition, regular use quickly builds tolerance, so it takes more of the substance to achieve the same effect.

Use of Magic Mushrooms and LSD for Cluster Headaches

Several researchers have looked at the use of these hallucinogenic substances to treat cluster headaches, especially cluster headaches for which conventional treatment doesn't work.

In 2006, two Harvard clinicians surveyed 53 cluster headache sufferers who reported that they had used psilocybin or LSD in an attempt to treat their cluster headaches.

They found about half of the psilocybin users and most of the LSD users said the drugs had terminated at least one cluster period. In addition, 95% of psilocybin users and 80% of LSD users said the illegal drugs had extended remissions from their headaches. Some were able to use doses of the drugs that were low enough to not cause hallucinations.

Another more recent survey confirmed that cluster headache sufferers -- especially those who aren't getting any relief from conventional medications -- often turn to illegal drugs in an effort to find something to control their pain. Out of the 54 people in that survey, 34 had tried cannabinoids, 13 had tried cocaine, eight had tried heroin, 18 had tried psilocybin, 12 had tried LSA (lysergic acid amide, a hallucinogenic drug closely related to LSD) and four had tried LSD.

According to that survey, the cluster headache sufferers polled tended to underestimate both the legal risks and the safety concerns related to their drug use.

The study didn't look at effectiveness.

However, another survey that included nearly 500 people found that LSD and psilocybin, along with LSA, worked as well as or even better than most conventional medications for cluster headache. Users of these drugs reported that they shortened or aborted cluster periods, and brought cluster headaches into remission more effectively than conventional medications. In addition, users reported that they needed "infrequent and non-hallucinogenic doses" of the drugs.

The authors urged more research on these drugs and related compounds to see if they really work for cluster headache treatment.

The Bottom Line

LSD and psilocybin from magic mushrooms are illegal drugs that haven't been studied as medications for cluster headache disorder. Users report they may work, especially for people who haven't found any relief elsewhere. However, they carry significant potential legal penalties and major health risks.

Sources:

DiLorenzo C et al. The use of illicit drugs as self-medication in the treatment of cluster headache: Results from an Italian online survey. Cephalagia. 2015 Apr 22.

Schindler EA et al. Indoleamine Hallucinogens in Cluster Headache: Results of the Clusterbusters Medication Use Survey. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 2015 Nov 23:1-10.

Sewell RA et al. Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD. Neurology. 2006 Jun 27;66(12):1920-2.

Continue Reading