Cluster headaches are among the most painful experiences that humans can have. More painful than childbirth, kidney-stones and getting kicked in the balls. A cluster headache attack is so excruciatingly painful, that sufferers might end up banging their head to the wall, pulling out their hair, screaming and crying in agony. The experience has been described as being poked in the eye with a hot stick that pierces your brain. Attacks can last up to 90 minutes and may occur several times a day. And they repeat for days on end. The headache attacks can be traumatizingly painful and cause PTSD in some people.
Often, cluster headaches (CH) come in cycles – presenting themselves from a few times to several months per year. CH can also be chronic, which means people have to endure intense physical pain every single day of their life. Sufferers of cluster headaches have a 20% higher suicide rate than average – that’s why they are also known as ‘suicide headaches.’
There is little that modern medicine can do to help ‘clusterheads’. But in recent years it has become increasingly clear that psilocybin offers hope. There issome scientific, and lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that small doses of mushrooms (or other tryptamines, such as LSD) can help to prevent cluster cycles from happening. This is something that no prescription medication has been able to do! Its mechanism of action is still unclear. However, it does not seem to be related to the psychedelic properties of tryptamines. Scientists have suggested that CH originate in the hypothalamus, and that the psilocybin somehow slows down the blood flow to this area – preventing the onset of a cluster-attack.
Taking preventive doses of psilocybin can keep clusterheads free of the painful attacks for long periods of time. No wonder that many of them have resorted to self medicating with mushrooms and truffles. The required dose is a lot lower than the dose for a psychedelic experience. People report taking between 1/3 and half the dose that would bring on a mild recreational trip. Mushrooms come in different strains and strengths and they are a natural product, with varying percentages of psilocybin. Therefore it is impossible to state an exact dose that would be appropriate for everyone. Some cautious experimentation might be necessary to find the right amount. For fresh truffles it can be anywhere between 3.5 grams and 7.5 grams. Especially for people without experience with psychedelics, it is recommended to start on the low side. A good rule of thumb: a ‘cluster-buster’ dose should give the same buzz as two or three beers. Not to say that alcohol and truffles are comparable, but just to indicate the level of intoxication. So: the senses and emotions will be a bit enhanced – colors may become brighter – but a full-on psychedelic trip is not necessary for the medicinal effect. Note of caution: psychedelic effects might occur. It is prudent to be prepared for this – and to take the medicinal dose in an appropriate setting. Taking large doses of psilocybin doesn’t seem to be more effective in preventing CH than using a low dose. They might actually be less effective.
Preventing a cycle
Preventing a cycle seems to be a lot easier than stopping one, once it is happening. For clusterheads who don’t have predictable episodes, it’s important to start dosing as soon as they feel the first signs of a cycle coming up. The sooner, the better. Just a few doses seem to be needed to give long-lasting results. Many clusterheads report staying pain-free for years on end, with a regular schedule of dosing once every few months. For other people it takes two or three doses, 5 days apart, right before the cluster cycle is expected. Waiting 5 days between doses is essential, because of the tolerance effect (the so called ‘shutting the door’) of psilocybin. Taking mushrooms more frequently is basically a waste of medicine, and it prolongs the time that is needed for the medicine to have an effect again. The medicinal effect can be apparent quickly, but it may also take some time. It’s important to realize that the headaches might first become worse, before they disappear. This is called the ‘slap-back’ effect. The beast is fighting back, so to speak. Although this can be distressing, it may very well be a sign that the mushrooms are having an effect.
Stopping an attack
As for stopping a headache attack, once the beast is loose: this also seems possible with mushrooms. Taking a very small dose is key here. Since such small doses do not seem to invoke tolerance, they can be repeated as attacks repeat. This method is called the SPUT method: Small Piece Under Tongue. The tissues in the mouth can absorb the psilocybin very quickly, without having to go through the stomach. Some people have reported having stopped an attack in 10 – 20 minutes by placing a small piece of mushroom under the tongue and sucking on it. Yes, it tastes horrible. But compared to the pain of the headache, truffles are sweet like honey.
Are you a clusterhead considering self medication with mushrooms? Please visit the very informative website ClusterBusters.org. There you will find all the information you need about interaction with medication, methods of use and lots more. For example, it’s important to realize that the medication that is often prescribed for cluster headaches interferes with psilocybin, blocking its action. That’s why clusterheads recommend going off the medication 5 days prior to the mushroom dose. And then to wait another 5 days before getting back on the meds. The warnings on the ClusterBuster site are also worth reading – especially if you have no previous experience with mushrooms or other psychedelics. Mushrooms are not like your average pharmaceutical. But they might be able to tame the beast that roams your head.