Can Psychedelics Treat Chronic Pain?

A Promising New Study Lays Groundwork for Future Clinical Trials

Evan Lewis-Healey


Retrieved from Max Pixel

Psychedelics are proving to be a wonder drug for applications beyond treating anxiety and depression, and chronic pain may be no exception.

A recent publication by Imperial College London has investigated the effects of self-medicating psychedelics for chronic pain. Although the study was not conducted to assess the effectiveness of psychedelics in the treatment of chronic pain, the research opens the door to a number of clinical trials that are planning to be conducted in the next several years.

Chronic Pain — A Persistent Problem

Chronic pain can come in many forms, but is broadly characterized as lasting pain for more than three months. The condition is more commonplace than you may think — around 20% of the global population has to live with it.

More serious and debilitating chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, have been causing doctors to scratch their heads for decades now; there is no explicit underlying cause of the condition, which means that treatments are rarely very successful.

Some patients are treated with antidepressants or opioids if the pain is relatively low-level. However, treatment can go as far as invasive neurosurgery — something that many patients would hope to avoid.

Despite the intensity of these more drastic treatments, many chronic pain patients are unable to feel long-lasting relief, which can have a huge impact on their quality of life. One chronic pain patient describes their struggles:

“I just remember feeling really frustrated that I was in this situation. ‘When will it end, when will I feel normal again?’” said one chronic pain sufferer featured in the study. “I felt like my pain was controlling my life. There’s some hopelessness in that… [I] legitimately thought I was probably never going to get better, or that I would never feel true happiness again, or comfort, or…



Evan Lewis-Healey

PhD candidate at Cambridge University. Studying the cognitive neuroscience of altered states of consciousness.