Health Canada has allowed the use of psilocybin-based therapy for a man in Alberta with terminal cancer. This news comes after a landmark ruling in 2020 that legalized psilocybin for end-of-life care. A first, since magic mushrooms (and thus its active ingredient, psilocybin) were banned in Canada in 1974.
First in Alberta for Psilocybin Treatment
Normally, psilocybin is illegal to use in Canada. Mainly because magic mushrooms—- along with other hallucinogens and amphetamines — are seen as a Schedule III drug by the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act. (But grow kits, spores, and mycelium are legal.)
Anthony White, a father in his forties, has been legally exempted by Health Canada to undergo psilocybin-assisted treatment for his terminal cancer. White is also the first patient in Alberta to receive psilocybin-based therapy in a regulated setting.
A Calgary-based nonprofit called SYNTAC Institute will provide the psilocybin-assisted treatment to Mr. White. While psilocybin may not treat the cancer itself, it is proven to give some much-needed comfort and relief to the patient.
A Groundbreaking New Solution
Any terminal medical diagnosis, such as cancer, carries with it severe mental health challenges. These include end-of-life distress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This is expecially pertinent for Mr. White, who is only in his 40’s, with a young daughter to take care of.
Now, Mr. White can ease his pain (both physical and emotional) with the help of psilocybin-assisted therapy, overseen by doctors:
“Facing this devastating prognosis has been incredibly difficult, but I am grateful that I can soon gain some comfort and relief through this promising therapy.”
Psilocybin-assisted therapy will help Canadians who are in pain — whether physical, mental, or emotional — this is particularly importtant now because of the heavy toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. As David Harder, executive director of SYNTAC Institute in Calgary, said:
“We believe psychedelic medicines will be a huge part of the solution that Canadians need and deserve.
“We are not only incredibly thrilled for Mr. White gaining immediate access to this powerful therapeutic tool, but also for every Canadian who is suffering with mental and emotional health challenges.
“This is another step forward in the battle against our country’s mental health crisis.”
Selective Decriminalization of Drugs
It’s a step towards the goal to give all Canadians access to this emerging therapy.
And what do you know? Psychedelics are shown to be a better, cheaper alternative to Big Pharma. Its just that their therapeutic potential is buried by strict drug laws. Just ask Jordan Donich, a Toronto-based lawyer who told Yahoo Canada exactly what it means for drug use moving forward:
“Mr. White didn’t do anything wrong or deserve his present circumstances, so it’s refreshing to see the law recognize that relatively quickly. If a person can receive therapeutic benefits from an otherwise illicit substance in a regulated setting, why not?
“These are the very same people who would likely continue to unjustifiably suffer or just find the substance illegally.”
Bear in mind that Section 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act gives a legal exemption if it is necessary for a “medical or scientific purpose” or is otherwise in the public interest.
Simply put, it means that the Drug Law can be flexible…if you are able to present the ‘acceptable’ reasons. And what is end-of-life care if not the most valid medical reason of all to use psilocybin?
By allowing Mr. White to take psilocybin to help ease his pain, the law now goes beyond words on a paper — it sets a solid precedent for the selective decriminalization of drug use in Canada.
Truly no take-backs now, eh?
Slow and Steady
Allowing the use of psilocybin to ease the emotional stress of terminal cancer is just one of many milestones for psychedelics in Canada. The road to legal approval is slow and steady, but they’re getting there.
Mr. White may be the first person to receive psilocybin-assisted therapy in Alberta…but four patients with terminal conditions were the first in Canada as a whole, with exemptions granted in August of 2020. They were treated with psilocybin for end-of-life distress at a Victoria-based clinic called Therapsil.
In Toronto, ketamine-based psychotherapy is being offered by a clinic called Field Trip to help fight mental health issues. As for its legality, Donich said:
“It appears an exemption can be granted where the patient is otherwise treatment-resistant… The legislation functions as a gatekeeper to new drug use in treatment settings, so it doesn’t mean all drugs are legal for everyone.”
Some people think this system is for the best. This way, there will be enough “buffer” to protect patients from new treatments being made — which are promising in the lab, yet still not ready for the “real world”. And you can expect a whole lot of them to debut very soon, says Donich:
“As long as new drug use falls within Section 56(1), we can expect a growing number of new substances coming to market.”
So what do you think? Will the legal use of psilocybin in Canada ever go beyond the setup of end-of-life care?
Share your thoughts down below!