Pubdate: Sat, 26 Mar 2005
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Times Colonist
Author: Sharon Kirkey, CanWest News Service
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


OTTAWA -- The pain strikes without warning in the middle of the night,
an explosive shot of pain on one side of Doug Wright's head that feels
"like a red hot poker suddenly stuck through my eye."

He bolts from bed. He can't lie down, he can't sit still; he paces and
moves, and if he can't abort the headache instantly by inhaling
high-dose, high-flow oxygen from the tank he keeps in his house, he
drops to his knees, screaming in agony. Twice he has blacked out from
the pain.

Wright, who turns 49 this year, has suffered from cluster headaches
for 30 years. His are "episodic": Three to five headaches per day, for
eight to 10 weeks duration at a time. "Chronics" experience one to
five headaches every day, day in and day out.

"One of the old terms, if you go into medical sites for cluster
headaches, is 'suicide headaches.' " Wright treats his using oxygen
therapy and medicines that constrict the blood vessel walls in his
head. Psilocybin -- the key ingredient in "magic" mushrooms -- could
be next.

"Let me state up front that I have not tried this treatment, yet,
myself. It's illegal. The last thing I want is some person banging on
my door, questioning what I'm doing, or what's going on," the Nanaimo
chiropractor says.

But, as Harvard University doctors prepare to test the hallucinogenic
fungus, as well as LSD, against cluster headaches, Wright hopes to be
involved. "I'm hoping that when the study comes up, I'll be in cycle,
and I'll be down there," in Boston. "I'd like to participate,
particularly if we can do it in a controlled, laboratory manner."

Decades after another Harvard alumnus proselytized the healing powers
of hallucinogens, research into psychedelic medicine is experiencing a

But Timothy Leary wasn't advocating pain control: He pushed
psychedelics as the path to enlightenment.

Today, hallucinogens are on a path to redemption, with a small group
of researchers studying LSD, magic mushrooms, MDMA (the drug used to
make ecstasy) and even ibogaine, a psychoactive derived from the root
bark of an African plant, as treatments for post-traumatic stress
disorder, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, drug and alcohol addiction
and anxiety and physical pain from terminal cancer. "It may not be
long before doctors are legally prescribing hallucinogens for the
first time in decades," a recent article in New Scientist magazine

In addition to testing LSD and psilocybin for cluster headaches,
researchers at Harvard won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval
in December to test MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on eight people with
advanced cancer. MDMA, 3,4-methylene dioxymethamphetamine -- street
names "ecstasy, Adam, XTC, hug, beans and love drug," according to the
U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse -- is a psychoactive. Studies on
animals suggest it works on serotonin, the brain chemical that
regulates mood and sensitivity to pain.

The work is being partly funded by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary
Association for Psychedelic Studies based in Sarasota, Fla., whose
mission is to support scientific research "designed to develop
psychedelics and marijuana into FDA-approved prescription medicines,
and to educate the public honestly about the risks and benefits of
these drugs," according to its Web site. MAPS is supporting a
preliminary study at the Iboga Therapy House near Vancouver to test
ibogaine (which is not a controlled substance) in treating cocaine,
crack, alcohol and other chemical addictions.

Anecdotal and case reports suggest magic mushrooms or LSD may not only
reduce pain from cluster headaches, but also stop the cycling course
of attacks. According to Dr. John Halpern, an instructor in psychiatry
at Harvard who is heading the LSD/psilocybin cluster headaches study,
no conventional medications exist that can do that.

In Canada, the non-profit Organization for Understanding Cluster
Headache (OUCH) Canada, which Wright, of Nanaimo, helped found, is
disseminating information and links to the studies on its Web site

"There are, I'm sure, medical doctors (in Canada) who are monitoring
it and waiting to see the outcome of the trials," Wright says. "This
is a terrible affliction. We're looking for some way to end our pain."
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MAP posted-by: Derek