Things are looking bright in Quebec.
You see, Health Canada has made access to psilocybin — the active compound in magic mushrooms and truffles — so much easier for healthcare experts. Where once psychedelic-based talk therapy could be done only in clinical trials, licensed experts can now ask for access to these drugs on behalf of their patients. This is a godsend for Canadians who live with PTSD, depression, and anxiety, but have found no relief so far in mainstream medicine.
First Patient in Quebec Approved for Psilocybin Therapy
A Montreal-based clinic, called Mindspace by Numinus, has been approved by Health Canada to give psilocybin-based therapy for a patient with resistant depression. This person is also the first in Quebec to undergo the said therapy in a legal manner.
Dr. Andrew Bui-Nguyen, a key therapist at Mindspace, told Canadian Press about the approval:
“It’s a privilege to be able to accompany people in the exploration of their psychological distress and to offer something different [from] conventional treatment such as antidepressants.”
The approval of psilocybin for clinics creates a wide range of medical options, especially for those with resistant depression. However, psychedelic-based therapy is not yet covered by Quebec’s health insurance plan.
“There’s a rigorous screening procedure. We look at the diagnosis, the medical history, if there’s a risk of addiction, what treatments have already been tried. There must have been a lot of treatments done beforehand so the application is solid.”
Psilocybin Creates New Paths in the Brain
The approval doesn’t mean that one can just enter a facility for a dose of psilocybin. The entire process, said Bui-Nguyen, has to include several talk therapy sessions before and after patients take the drug.
Bui-Nguyen told Canadian Press:
“It’s not miraculous. You don’t take psilocybin and that’s it, a psychedelic trip and after, the depression is cured — no! The patient has a lot of work to do. But it opens perspectives; it creates new paths in the brain that we aren’t used to taking. The patient then explores new roads to get out of depression.”
It’s also not your typical psychonaut trip at home, either. The patient must stay in the clinical setting for up to six hours, while being supervised by two psychotherapists.
Just You and the Music
One such patient is Thomas Hartle, 54, whose terminal colon cancer diagnosis had left him suffering from end-of-life anxiety. He came very close to giving up. Up until he received his first taste of legally-sanctioned psilocybin-based therapy.
Hartle, who lives in Saskatchewan, was among the first to take part in a legal psilocybin group therapy program offered by Roots to Thrive, a clinic based in Nanaimo, B.C.. He described his anxiety, and the first session that would change his life forever:
“Before the treatment, it’s like you’re sitting in your car. It’s summer. You have your windows down. You’re stuck in rush-hour traffic. It’s noisy. It’s unpleasant,” Hartle told Canadian Press.
“Your favourite song is on the radio, but you can’t actually appreciate any of it because all of the other distractions are preventing you from even noticing that the radio is on.
“After a psilocybin treatment, [it’s like] you’re still in your car, in traffic, but you have the windows up, the air conditioning is on and it’s quiet. It’s just you and the music.”
Psilocybin Treatment Made Easier
Hartle is among the few Canadians so far who have received legal psilocybin-based therapy after it was made easier by Health Canada in January. Healthcare workers were the first to benefit from the historic move, which granted access to restricted drugs such as psilocybin or MDMA, via its “Special Access Program”. Since then, Health Canada has gotten 15 requests from clinics to use psilocybin or MDMA in their therapy.
Hartle shared his newfound hope with Canadian Press:
“The therapy part has a capital T in this whole process. It isn’t just taking psychedelics. It’s just a tool in the process; the therapy is crucial to getting a good outcome.”
The ease of restrictions has granted a new lease on life for those living with serious conditions, such as resistant depression and end-of-life anxiety. With the help of psilocybin and talk therapy, a terminal diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence:
“The improvement in my mental health is so night and day that it would be difficult to say all of the things that it does for me.
“I still have cancer. I still have difficulty with what it physically does, but there are days when I don’t even think about it. What would you do to have a day where you just feel normal?”
Professor Danilo Bzdok, lead author of the world’s biggest study on how psychedelics affect the brain, said that psychedelic drugs are likely the future of mental healthcare. The study also pointed out that patients enjoyed up to six months of relief from depression and anxiety, after a single psychedelic-based session. There were also fewer side effects than mainstream antidepressants.
“There’s something like a renaissance, a reawakening of psychedelics,” Bzdok, an associate professor with McGill University’s biomedical engineering department, told Canadian Press.
“Hallucinogenic drugs may very well turn out to be the next big thing to improve clinical care of major mental health conditions.”
Shroom Boom in Canada
Though these freedoms to use psilocybin are fairly recent in Canada, the practice of microdosing magic mushrooms and truffles is hardly new. To date, the top three provinces in terms of psilocybin drugs seizures are Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.
Professor Balazs Szigeti of Imperial College London, one of the pioneers of psychedelic research today, remarked on the trend:
“This is not an underground phenomenon anymore. There are businesses that make a living out of microdosing, and obviously that changes the game a little bit.”
One such entrepreneur is Tally*, who told CBC/Radio-Canada of the growing shroom boom in the country. The demand is so high, apparently, that competing web shops have had to push prices down to entice customers:
“We’ve seen an increase in our sales. There are even health professionals who come to ask us for information. Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia are our best sellers.”
Better Treatments for Mental Health
So! What’s next for this plucky new clinic in Quebec after being the first to administer psilocybin-based therapy legally? According to Payton Nyquvest, CEO of Mindspace by Numinus, he hopes to make psychedelics such as psilocybin from magic mushrooms and truffles, a widespread, more accessible option for treatment in Canada:
“We haven’t seen significant innovation in mental healthcare in probably over 40 years.
“We’re at a time where new and better treatments for mental health are needed now more than ever. No matter what you look at: depression, anxiety, and suicidality…these are all rates that continue to go up with no clear line in terms of how we’re going to address these massive societal issues.
“Psychedelics represent an opportunity to make a significant impact.”
Will this new approval for psilocybin therapy in Quebec change how the public sees psychedelics in the long run? While it will still take time to root fully, all the signs so far are pointing towards YES!