The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2020 that lower back pain (LBP) affects 619 million people globally. They estimate that by 2050 the number of cases will increase to a shocking 843 million, driven largely by an expanding population, who are living longer than ever before. Additionally, our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and reliance on technology (‘tech neck’ anyone?) are also key contributors to this problem. 

When you actually stop to think of how many people you know suffer with back problems, it starts to make sense that LBP is the most globally prevalent musculoskeletal condition, as well as the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is the condition from which the highest number of people could benefit from rehabilitation. This is where magic mushrooms (or more specifically their psychoactive compound psilocybin) come in. 

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Can Psilocybin Treat Chronic Back Pain?

Patrick Finan, the co-principal investigator for the trial, is putting psilocybin to the test to see if the psychedelic compound could ease chronic back pain.

Finan says: “It’s a massive problem… Chronic lower back pain is growing in prevalence, particularly as people age and medicine improves to keep people active longer.”

With new research showing that psilocybin can be used to treat depression, chronic lower back pain (which can be associated with depression) could be next. Finan states;

“The data over the last several years about the effects of psilocybin on depression have really been eye-opening… Better than we typically see in pharmaceutical or psychotherapeutic interventions.” 

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There is Growing Evidence that Magic Mushrooms Can Treat Physical Pain

This is not the first trial that explores the use of psychedelics to treat physical pain. Just last year a comparative literature review was published that suggested psychedelics could replace harmful and addictive opioids as painkillers-of-choice — something that would be greatly beneficial to the world. A few months before that, in August 2023, another study was published that found psychedelics to be “better pain relief compared to conventional medications” 

So, there is notable precedent for this exciting new research. Like all chronic pain, lower back pain can be difficult to treat. As Finan explains;

“In the case of chronic lower back pain, an MRI can show clear pathology in the spine… Other times, and really quite often, patients will report they are experiencing real chronic lower back pain that’s not viewable by techniques like MRI. It’s not to diminish the pain people are reporting or to suggest they’re making it up. The resolution of our techniques does not always align with the reality of people’s pain.” 

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Invisible Pain

Basically, as advanced as technology is today, there are still limits, further complicated by the mysterious connectivity and chemistry of our bodies, which sometimes makes pain invisible. 

A hypothesis that Finan suggests for this, is that injury can cause the central nervous system to become sensitized. Pain neurons that fired when the original injury happened can remain active erroneously, causing the pain response for an extended time. This could cause chronic pain with no ‘obvious’ visible cause. 

The research team is a collaboration between the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University.  The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins will host this trial, which hopes to evaluate whether psilocybin can help patients with chronic lower back pain and depression. They will focus on targeting the aspects of pain connected to emotion; these are governed by the central nervous system. 

The study, starting this month, will consist of two groups of 20 patients. One group will receive psilocybin, while the other group will receive a placebo. Then, the results from each group will be compared. It’s an exciting study, the results of which we will update you on when it is eventually published… 🤞

Many People Are Trying This At Home…

However, as with almost all psychedelic research, the citizen scientists of the web tend to get there first. For many years, those who have self-healed with shrooms, from depression to cluster headaches, have recorded and shared their experiences. Chronic pain is no exception. Case in point, Reddit user u/DressWithPockets recently shared on a chronic pain subreddit;

“I struggled with fibromyalgia pain (nerve & generalized muscle) and other symptoms (extreme fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, night sweats, light sensitivity, morning stiffness and soft tissue inflammation) for 6 years before being properly diagnosed and treated….

A rheumatologist off-book recommended I look into psilocybin treatment and it truly changed my life! I’ve been off all pain meds and antidepressants for 2 years since starting psilocybin. I can count on one hand the number of times I even took over the counter advil last year. Shrooms have completely turned my life around plus I love the fact that I can grow my own meds.”

If you are interested in using psilocybin to treat chronic lower back pain, we recommend starting slowly with a microdosing routine, and seeing how it works for you. To learn more about this, check out these handy blogs:

Psychedelics 101: Everything You Need to Know About Microdosing

Choosing The Right Microdosing Method For You

Can Psychedelics Replace Opioids As Addiction-Free Painkillers?

Can Psilocybin Treat Chronic Pain in Veterans?

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