LSD-analog alleviates cluster headaches

Results from a recent pilot study that were presented at the International Headache Congress indicate that sufferers from cluster-headaches, one of the most painful conditions known, may benefit from treatment with 2-bromo-LSD (BOL-148), a non-hallucinogenic form of LSD.

Six patients were treated with the substance and showed a significant reduction in cluster headaches per day; some were free of the attacks for weeks or months.

"Some of these patients are still reporting significant relief more than a year after they were treated with the compound," says John Halpern, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School in Boston and one of the investigators involved in the study. "Nobody has ever reported these kinds of results."

"What causes these attacks is still not clear," says Peter Goadsby, a headache expert at the University of California, San Francisco, who is not connected with the research. But recent studies suggest that changes in the structure of the hypothalamus are involved.

Although there is no cure, patients can sometimes cure the headache by inhaling pure oxygen at the onset of an attack. Other treatments include blocking calcium channels with the drug verapamil—which is used for cardiac arrhythmia—or taking triptans, also used for migraines. Some patients have also reported finding relief in hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin.

In a 2006 study, 22 of 26 cluster headache patients reported successfully using psilocybin to abort the attacks, and 18 of 19 psilocybin users reported longer attack-free periods.

The study with BOL was led by Torsten Passie, a psychiatrist at the Hannover Medical School in Germany and an expert on LSD. He, Halpern, and colleagues decided to test 2-bromo-LSD (BOL), which was developed by Sandoz, the Swiss company that first synthesized LSD.

At the conference, Halpern and Passie presented the data of six patients with severe cluster headache who were given BOL once every 5 days for a total of three doses. All patients reported a reduction in frequency of attacks, and five patients reported having no attacks for months afterwards.

Because of the scale of this study and the associated shortcomings, Passie and Halpern hope to start a phase II trial with 50 patients later this year.

Read the full article (in English) here.