A first-of-its-kind exploratory study, led by researchers from Yale School of Medicine, has found a single dose of the psychedelic psilocybin can reduce migraine frequency by 50 percent for a least two weeks. The preliminary trial was small, with follow-up work necessary to validate the results, but the promising findings suggest great potential for psychedelics to treat migraines and cluster headaches.
Back in the 1960s, during the height of the first wave of psychedelic science, one of the more compelling research avenues was the potential for drugs such as LSD and psilocybin to treat headaches. Initial studies at the time seemed to suggest psychedelic drugs that activate 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A (5-HT2A) receptors could significantly reduce headache burden in chronic migraine sufferers.
Of course, all this research froze by the early 1970s as psychedelic drugs were criminalized and rendered taboo. It wasn’t really until the early years of the 21st century that the research restarted, and most modern psychedelic research has primarily focused on the drugs as adjuncts to psychotherapy, targeting conditions such as depression, addiction and PTSD.
Although official psychedelic investigations were in a state of deep freeze, out in the real world people continued to experiment with these drugs, self-treating for a number of conditions. Several surveys of these real-world applications revealed an abundance of cluster headache and migraine patients experimenting with LSD and psilocybin.
A new study, published in the journal Neurotherapeutics, is offering the first double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study on the effects of a moderate psilocybin dose on migraine frequency and severity. The research is only preliminary and small but its results are deeply encouraging.
Ten migraine sufferers were recruited for the trial. Each subject completed two sessions, one with a placebo and one with a moderate psilocybin dose. Headache diaries were used to track headache frequency and severity in the two weeks leading up to, and following, each experimental session.
“Compared to placebo, a single administration of psilocybin reduced migraine frequency by about half over the two weeks measured,” explains corresponding author on the new study Emmanuelle Schindler, in an email to New Atlas. ”In addition, when migraine attacks did occur in those two weeks, pain intensity and functional impairment during attacks were reduced by approximately 30 percent each.”
Perhaps the most intriguing finding from this small study was the lack of any correlation between the subjective strength of the psychedelic experience and the therapeutic effect. Prior trials using psilocybin to treat depression or addiction have suggested the overwhelming magnitude of a psychedelic experience seems to be fundamentally entwined with its therapeutic efficacy. So essentially, the more powerful the experience the better the result.
But unexpectedly, this migraine/psilocybin trial did not detect that association. In fact, those subjects reporting the highest scores on a self-reported altered state of consciousness scale showed some of the smaller reductions in migraine burden.