Yale to Study Psilocybin for Cluster Headaches
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Cluster headaches are a painful condition affecting more than 300,000 people in the U.S., according to the National Headache Foundation. They are characterized by bouts of frequent headache attacks, known as cluster periods, that last from weeks to months, followed by long periods of relief. The pain is severe on one side of the head and often accompanies other symptoms such as a runny nose or red, tearful eyes. 

But a new study by Yale University neurologist Emmanuelle Schindler scheduled to launch later this year will examine using a form of the psychedelic psilocybin, compared to a placebo, to treat cluster headaches. 

Cluster headaches are is so excruciating painful that they have been described as worse than childbirth, gunshot wounds, and kidney stones. Those unfortunate enough to suffer from them are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Treatments often fail to temper the pain and often come with serious side effects including rebound headaches. 

Schindler is recruiting some participants for the study from Clusterbusters, an activist group started by self-proclaimed “clusterhead” Bob Wold. Desperate for relief from the hour-long attacks, and after finding none from any drug or alternative treatment (including having teeth removed and considering brain surgery), Wold finally found something that worked—periodic low doses of psilocybin. 

Others in Clusterbusters say they have shortened the duration of their headaches or even “busted” their headaches completely with three microdoses of psilocybin spaced five days apart. 

Schindler told the Washington Post that she believes “patients know a lot more about their condition and how to treat it than they’re usually given credit for.” As a result, her study will involve using a low 10-milligram dose of a synthetic psilocybin, similarly scheduled.

Schindler isn’t the first to study psychedelics as a treatment for cluster headaches. A 2006 study published in the journal Neurology was based on interviews with 53 cluster headache sufferers who sought treatment with either psilocybin or LSD. Researchers found that 32 of those interviewed said the psychedelics successfully ended their headache pain. 

For more information about Schindler’s study or to register for participation, visit the study’s record detail on ClinicalTrials.gov

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