Treating Cluster Headaches with LSD

The chemical structure of LSD.

The chemical structure of LSD. Source: Acdx/Wikipedia.
Researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts have developed a new treatment for cluster headaches based on the famous psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) but without the hallucinogenic effects. The drug BOL-148 was designed more than 50 years ago as a placebo substitute for LSD and, in very limited clinical trials, appears to have a considerable positive effect on cluster headaches with only minor side effects.

Cluster headaches are extremely painful headaches that occur in intermittent cycles with periods of remission in between. A sufferer could experience several debilitating headaches a day every day for weeks or a few months followed by periods without any headaches at all. These remission periods can last for months, but some patients are headache free for less than a month per year.

Cluster headaches are extremely difficult to treat, but some patients experienced some relief while using LSD or psilocybin and brought this to the attention of their doctors. Both drugs are highly controlled substances that cannot be legally consumed except under extremely rare circumstances. BOL-148 is chemically very similar to LSD but is not a controlled substance. Researchers at Harvard obtained permission from the FDA for an extremely limited clinical trial using BOL-148.

Five patients suffering from cluster headaches that didn’t respond to any other treatments were given three doses of BOL-148 over the course of about ten days. The patients all saw dramatic improvement of their headache symptoms over the course of the next sixteen weeks while experiencing only mild side effects such as lightheadedness and those only for brief periods of time. Remission periods were also extended in the patients given the test drugs.

Clearly this was an extremely small sample and it did not include any control group for comparison, but researchers hope to use these results to obtain funding for more extensive studies following more established scientific procedures. A new company, Entheogencorp, has been formed by Harvard professor John Halpern to manage further studies and, hopefully, commercialize the use of BOL-148 to treat cluster headaches.

TFOT has previously reported on other neurological research including a USC study examining the communication between different parts of the brain, how brain scans might influence marketing efforts in the future, how memories are encoded into our brains, and a study proposing that brains see color instead of eyes.

Read more about the possible use of BOL-148 as a treatment for cluster headaches at the Entheogencorp website.

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About the author

Janice Karin

Janice Karin has a B.A in physics from the University of Chicago and a M.S. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to extensive experience as a technical writer focused on development tools, databases, and APIs, Janice has worked as a freelance reporter, editor, and reviewer with contributions to a variety of technology websites. One of her primary focuses has been on PDAs and mobile devices, but she is interested in many other areas of science and technology.

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