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Can psychedelics treat physical pain?

Sufferers of chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and cluster headaches have been raving about their ‘life-saving’ experiences with hallucinogenic drugs. Now, scientists are exploring the use of LSD and psilocybin in pain management.

In light of new findings that psychedelic drugs could transform mental health, scientists and researchers are persisting with their dedication to change our attitudes towards the medical potential of these once heavily frowned-upon compounds.

Simply put, their benefits are getting progressively harder to ignore and every day it becomes more and more apparent how game-changing it would be to rebrand and integrate them into mainstream healthcare systems.

With stigma still firmly attached, however, it’ll be a while still before we see widespread administration of LSD, DMT, and even MDMA (among others) to patients seeking treatment for anxiety, addiction, and depression.

That’s despite how far they’ve come since their hallucinogenic hippy heyday and their recent return to the media – which was marked by the cover of Newsweek’s September issue calling psilocybin the biggest advance in healing the human mind since Prozac.

So, as we wait for the era of psychedelic-assisted therapy to rear its head once and for all, let’s turn our attention to a much faster developing means of their use in modern science and one that deserves just as much hype: that of two illicit substances (both renowned for their ability to make us trip balls) being touted as an up-and-coming method of pain relief.

I’m referring here, to acid and magic mushrooms, both of which have sufferers of chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and cluster headaches raving about their ‘life-saving’ experiences with them.

Psychedelics, a new frontier for mental health treatments - Sygnature Discovery

‘Not only did psilocybin help to control the acute nature of the attacks, but it greatly lengthened remission times between cycles from a few months with pharmaceutical medicines to up to two years,’ says Ainslie Course, who has suffered from the latter for well over a decade.

On this note, it increasingly seems that pain management is now the next frontier for psychedelics.

And aside from psilocybin’s promising results in treating what’s often nicknamed ‘suicide headaches,’ LSD is now being investigated by start-ups for curing excruciating stiffness.

In fact, though high quality evidence remains scarce, dozens of emerging trials exploring this newfound territory are going a long way in validating the anecdotal reports that hallucinogens can play this role.

‘Looking at the depression and PTSD studies, you can see quite conceivably how psychedelics might help people change the relationship they have with their chronic pain,’ explains James Close, a doctoral student at Imperial College London.

‘There’s preclinical data suggesting the positive effect on the psychological mechanisms and neural pathways associated with this. The domains of pain, anxiety, and depression are all connected. If you treat one, another often gets better.’

Frontiers | Self-Medication for Chronic Pain Using Classic Psychedelics: A Qualitative Investigation to Inform Future Research | Psychiatry

But how does this actually work?

Essentially, Close believes that by ‘holistically’ freeing the brain from deep-rooted habits, including serious and persistent pain, hallucinogens can create ‘plasticity’ and allow for the slate to be wiped clean.

They’ve also proved to be completely non-addictive, a significant plus amid the opioid crisis currently plaguing the US which has brought to light the urgent need for effective medication that isn’t wrapped up in institutional medical negligence driven by profit.

‘I tried dozens of medications including blood pressure pills, strong painkillers, oral steroids in huge doses and nerve blocks into the back of my head. But rather than properly treat me, I gained weight, was sleepless, agitated, got kidney stones, experienced cognitive fog and memory issues, plus my bones thinned and my joints became weak,’ finishes Course.

‘I find it very difficult to accept that psilocybin is classed as a schedule one drug, which we are told has no medical or therapeutic properties.’

Clearly, its potential is tremendous and this is a field of research whose time has come at last.