About a year ago, I attended a conference at a Boston-area university. I joined the ranks of experts and students playing session-hooky in the hallways. The conversation turned to MDMA, and its use in treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. A doctor turned to me and whispered, “You think that’s something? You should see what psychedelic mushrooms are doing for patients with cluster headaches!”
Intrigued, I asked, “What?!”
The doctor gushed that they were seeing remission, and that patient groups across the country were helping each other heal with the ‘shrooms. When I asked for more details, and if he would go on record, he politely clammed up and walked away. I suppose that was for the best—I couldn’t find a media outlet at that time to take the story anyway.
Oh, what a difference a year makes. As medical marijuana gains traction across the nation, the cannabis plant’s therapeutic value is seldom questioned, except perhaps by those whose job it is to support marijuana prohibition.
And with the mainstream recognition that this plant might have more healing power than the Federal government cares to acknowledge, other, traditionally more frightening illicit drugs like psychedelics, are being noted for their therapeutic value, too.
Psilocybin—aka “magic”—mushrooms and LSD are Schedule I drugs, the same Federal class marijuana sits in having no recognized medicinal value and a high potential for abuse, are being turned to for relief of cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches are excruciating for those who suffer from them.
More than one person in the course of research for this story likened the headaches to “an icepick piercing your brain through your eyes.” The headaches come in cycles, sometime multiple times a day, and an attack can last for up to 90 minutes. It’s debilitating to the point where cluster headache patients cannot function normally in society—how do you tell your boss you need to take an hour off while you suffer through excruciating pain? Modern medications—from opiates to steroids to neuro-implants—are, at best, minimally effective. There is no known cure. The suicide rate for those with the disease is 20 times the national average (PDF), according to a report published by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational organization dedicated to expanding the usages of psychedelics and marijuana.
There are an estimated 1 out of every 1000 Americans, 350,000-400,000 people, who suffer with the disease.
Bob Wold, 61, started getting the killer headaches 35 years ago. He tried over 70 different medications, and none of them worked. There is only one FDA-approved medication for cluster headaches. Other than that, all other treatments are off-label.
According to Wold, the National Institutes of Health has spent less than $2 million on studying cluster headaches in 25 years.
And so, Wold was “always on the look out for something better.”
Combing the Internet and message boards, he started doing research, and found people talking about psychedelics. “A guy in Scotland had used some LSD recreationally and his cluster headaches didn’t happen that year. [The headaches] start the same time of year, every year,” he explains, so if your cycle starts in the spring, that’s when they’ll usually start to come on.
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