When it comes to treating migraine headaches, what entheogenic remedy works better: cannabis or shrooms? That's a question most people never thought to ask, but three university researchers in Sweden wanted to find out and published their findings in the Harm Reduction Journal earlier this month.
"Psychoactive substances as a last resort—a qualitative study of self-treatment of migraine and cluster headaches" utilized online forums to study desperate patients with chronic headaches who turned to psychedelics and cannabis when traditional treatments failed them. While cannabis helped, the results were more unpredictable, whereas mushrooms and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) appeared to be "effective for both prophylactic and acute treatment of cluster headache and migraines."
"I used magic mushrooms to abort my chronic migraines," wrote one person, while a recreational shroomer was surprisingly "pleased to experience alleviating effects on these conditions." LSD ranked high on the list, possibly being more effective than shrooms, with one person claiming, "LSD may be the most efficient of the psychedelic treatments." Cannabis was commonly discussed for "its potential to alleviate symptoms or lessen the frequency of migraine attacks," while others tested out opium, ketamine, cocaine, DMT and ecstasy.
Participants in the online forums took dosage and timing seriously. Per the study, "A benchmark for occasional single doses of psilocybin was around 1 g of dry Psilocybe cubensis but could vary between 0.25 g and as much as 3 g. An ideal dose for one individual could be far too much for another…. A preferred dosage of LSD had an interval between as less as 5 μg and over 150 μg, depending on personal preferences and if used occasionally or more frequently following a dosing regimen."
The dosage regimen for cannabis, however, was more complicated. The study noted, "It was proposed that higher doses could have a triggering, rather than alleviating, effect: 'Increase in migraine/headache intensity always goes hand in hand with an increase in dosage.' Also, the timing of cannabis use in relation to the attacks was discussed as a factor for successful treatment. Typically, it was recommended to use cannabis immediately when sensing the onset of an episode."
The researchers ultimately concluded, "Self-treatment with psychedelic tryptamines, primarily LSD and psilocybin, was reported to provide a significant lessening of the frequency and intensity of attacks in many cases of both [cluster headaches] and migraines. A full remission was also prevalently reported for both disorders." The differing outcomes with cannabis, meanwhile, possibly correspond with "timing, frequency, and method of administration, dosage, and in particular the strain (type) of cannabis or the quality of the product."
The researchers suggested a cannabinoid-focused approach to treating headaches as some compounds might help—and could be isolated to do so—while others might make the attacks worse.
None of the self-medicating patients experienced adverse events or seemed interested in the psychoactive effects—e.g., microdosing was very common—but the study noted "how desperation sometimes spurred risky behavior when obtaining and testing various treatment alternatives."
The researchers obviously did not endorse swapping Advil for acid. Pain patients should always start with a trip to the doctor before trippin' on psychedelics, but the study reinforces the idea that entheogenic options might exist for conditions that seem resistant to traditional therapies.