Psilocybin for Migraines
Migraines are debilitating headaches that can be challenging to diagnose and treat. This headache disorder is the most common neurological condition in the United States, affecting abou 20% of women and 10% of men. Doctors are continuing to learn more about the condition’s underlying causes and understand how it intersects with brain anatomy and neurochemistry. Migraines affect many individuals’ ability to live their lives, work, and enjoy their leisure time. While oral medications, nasal sprays, injections, and other treatments are all options, many patients respond poorly or experience significant side effects.
Groundbreaking research into the therapeutic effects of psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in “magic” mushrooms, has offered hope to those with migraines or cluster headaches that resist conventional therapies. While clinical trials are in their earliest stages, results have been promising. This article discusses the symptoms and causes of migraine headaches, how psilocybin can help, and ways to receive the therapy.
The primary symptom of migraines is an intense, throbbing headache with pain localized on one or both sides of the head. Some individuals experience light sensitivity, intolerance to sounds or smells, and/or nausea. In severe cases, individuals may experience visual disturbances, altered taste or smell, tinnitus, or tingling sensations across the skin.
Migraines occur in four stages, which can unfold for as long as a week. As individuals learn about their condition and migraine triggers, they can recognize the onset of their headache and track the presentation to help their doctor with diagnosis and treatment planning.
Researchers understand how migraines occur but are still learning about their causes. When triggered, the blood vessels of people with migraine conditions send pain signals to the brain. In response, the body releases inflammatory compounds that irritate the vascular system. Neurologists are working to unlock the anatomical and biochemical forces that lead to the condition.
Healthcare professionals know that the condition is hereditary and more common in women. Smoking and unmanaged stress contribute to the occurrence and severity of the episodes. Beyond the cause of the underlying condition, specific events or stimuli trigger individual headaches. While triggers vary from person to person and can change over time, common triggers include:
- Certain foods or chemical preservatives
- Changes in sleep duration or quality
- Emotional distress
- Flashing or bright light
- Hormonal changes
- Strong or agitating odors, including smoke or perfume
- Weather fluctuations affecting humidity and bariatric pressure
While people can control some of their triggers, many are environmental or external, limiting an individual’s ability to prevent migraines. The level of exposure or intensity of a trigger can lead to the rapid onset or a prolonged run-up to the painful stage of the migraine. Individuals with the condition often keep detailed journals to assess and identify their triggers.
Can Psilocybin Treat Migraines?
Clinical research into psilocybin therapy for the treatment of migraines is in its early stages, but most researchers agree that magic mushrooms are a viable treatment option. Several studies dating back to the 2010s reported positive results for patients consuming doses of psilocybin. There is also a wealth of anecdotal evidence.
As their body of evidence grows, neurology and psychiatry researchers will conduct larger clinical trials as part of their new research. These in-depth studies will guide the formation of treatment protocols and recommendations for migraine management with psilocybin.
A 2021 study of 10 migraine sufferers reported that a single treatment with low-dose psilocybi was beneficial for two weeks. The study revealed that migraine attacks were less frequent and less severe even though the patient only consumed a single dose of psilocybin. Researchers also noted patients did not experience adverse reactions to their psychedelic experiences.
Researchers have noted that the psychedelic drug is an agonist to serotonin, binding to 5-HT2A receptors in the brain. This mechanism potentially explains its ability to combat headache symptoms. Triptans, the main type of conventional migraine medication, work by increasing serotonin levels to constrict blood vessels and lower pain.
Further study is needed to understand how psilocybin mushrooms achieve their effect on migraines. Some researchers have proposed that there is an anti-inflammatory response that limits the neurological signaling that leads to migraine pain.
Can Psilocybin Cause Migraines?
Doctors don’t fully understand every cause of migraines, but current research does not indicate that psilocybin causes people to develop migraines. The condition results from inflammatory responses in blood vessels, and psilocybin offers anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, doctors consider genetics and sex the central determinants in developing a migraine condition.
However, every treatment carries risks and side effects. Psilocybin may increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, and induce nausea or diarrhea. These physical effects are temporary and resolve after the body metabolizes the compound.
For some individuals, psilocybin use can lead to “bad” trips in which they experience fear and anxiety from upsetting feelings or hallucinations brought on by the psychedelic and underlying discomfort. These disturbing psychedelic effects are more likely to occur during recreational use than therapeutic use.
The stress experienced during a bad trip could trigger a migraine in patients with the condition. Researchers also note that nitric oxide levels rise from psilocybin ingestion, which may be a migraine trigger for some individuals. Most researchers agree that the risk of triggering a migraine, and other side effects, rises with the size of the dose.
How to Participate in Psilocybin Therapy
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved psilocybin for the treatment of any physical or mental health conditions. As of March 2023, Oregon is the only state with active psilocybin treatment centers. Colorado is also currently establishing guidelines to oversee their treatment program.
Psilocybin remains illegal in the rest of the country, just like other psychedelics such as LSD and DMT. Traveling to Oregon or enrolling in an authorized clinical trial is the only safe way to participate in legal psilocybin microdosing.
The National Institutes of Health operates a searchable database of open studies. If you suffer from a migraine-related condition and meet a trial’s criteria, you can apply to partake in an exploratory controlled study of the migraine-suppressing effects of psilocybin. Some studies have narrow parameters regarding diagnosis, age, sex, and type of migraine patients have. Researchers conduct trials under strict oversight and prioritize patient protection.
While access to psilocybin is growing as states and cities reconsider its criminalization, it is never safe to try and self-manage any health condition or its symptoms with any substance. Talking with trained professionals is essential to rule out potential contraindications due to your medications or health history.
In addition, though psilocybin is non-toxic, obtaining mushrooms that are safe to consume can be challenging. During a clinical trial, researchers provide verified psilocybin obtained from reputable sources.
Jake Peter received his journalism degree from Emerson College and has been writing content for the Sanctuary Wellness Institute since 2021. He is passionate about all things cannabis.