A man whose horrific cluster headaches got so bad he considered euthanasia has said he found relief after taking the illegal psychedelic drug LSD in a clinical trial.
“It’s almost unbearable pain. Like a smoking ice pick stuck in the back of your eyes,” Jeffry Bader, 30, said of his daily headaches in ‘How to Change Your Mind.’ His words were translated by the creators of the
documentary, which explores the use of mind-altering drugs to treat medical conditions that don’t always respond to existing therapies, such as cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches are almost daily episodes of excruciating pain, usually felt behind the eye, which peak in fifteen minutes and usually last one to three hours. For most people with cluster headaches, the attacks last between a month and 12 weeks, followed by months or even years of respite. But about a fifth of patients, like Bader, suffer from chronic cluster headaches without a pain-free period.
Bader said he had “attacks” of pain every day, sometimes up to eight times a day, which caused him to lose his hair. The pain was so severe that Bader was unable to work.
Anyone can get cluster headaches, but they tend to affect men more than women. There is currently no cure for this rare and potentially debilitating disease that affects fewer than 1 in 1,000 people. Treatments include oxygen therapy at the time of attack and medications that relax blood vessels, reduce inflammation, or are prescribed to prevent headaches by restoring the balance of certain brain chemicals.
Student scientists LSD has stated that there are reports that it reduces the frequency and severity of cluster headache attacks and may prevent the onset of symptoms, although this is not yet proven.
Bader has tried everything from anti-epileptic drugs to ketamine for his headaches
Bader first experienced strange headaches as a child, but they weren’t that intense or that frequent.
Bader told Insider that the first attacks of cluster headaches started around age 14 or 15 and became daily from then on. He was diagnosed with chronic cluster headaches around ten years later, when he first received treatment.
Since then, Bader has tried more than 12 treatments, from antiepileptic drugs to ketamine infusions.
But nothing stopped the pain.
“In Switzerland, we have an institution called Exit, where you can choose suicide. And that still remains a realistic thought for me. How much is life worth living?” Bader told journalist Michael Pollan in the documentary, inspired by his book “How to Change Your Mind”.
According Brain research in the UKthe pain caused by cluster headaches is so intense that suicidal tendencies are often reported in patients, earning them the name “suicidal headaches”.
Bader had 5 days without pain after taking LSD
Bader took LSD under supervision at a clinic three times in three weeks as part of a trial to test whether the drug could treat cluster headaches.
Bader said in the documentary that since the LSD trialhe had had at least five days without a cluster headache.
He told Insider that his experience with LSD gave him “a new zest for life” and that he was taking steps to see if he could work again.
“It’s not that I’m magically cured now, but I can participate in life again,” he said.
Describing his trip to Insider, Bader said he felt “carefree and lighthearted” and “could feel like a kid for a few hours with no worries or problems.”
He said: “My self-pity dissolved into the air and everything was just beautiful for a while. I could see the little things in life again, feel them as beautiful, like the lush green leaves on the tree, how they moved in the wind.”
The trial Bader took part in is ongoing and it’s too early to say whether LSD improved his symptoms. Some people with cluster headaches can get remissions that last for months or years anyway. The drug will also need to be proven as a safe and effective treatment in other studies before regulators give it the green light for doctors to prescribe it.
But Bader is “definitely convinced” that it was LSD that improved his cluster attacks.
“This opportunity gives me a lot of hope for the future,” he said.