Psilocybin Law in Canada: Psychotherapy the First Step Towards Regulation
There is heavy contention regarding magic mushrooms in the Canadian legislature. Under the Canadian Controlled Drug & Substances Act, psilocybin mushrooms have been prohibited in Canada since 1975. However, recent developments have seen a positive trend towards psilocybin usage in the medical space. Thus, psilocybin law in Canada has begun to take shape.
Health Canada Grants Exemptions for Psilocybin Use for End-of-Life Care
In August 2020, four terminally ill Canadians were granted exemptions to use psychedelic therapy to assist with end-of-life care for compassionate use. Overall, 64 exemptions have been granted to date, consisting of 45 patients and 19 therapists.
In an interview with CBC’s Antoni Nerestant, Canadian Andrea Bird recounted her experience with psychedelic therapy, characterizing it as a perspective-altering and intimate experience. Bird received a terminal cancer diagnosis four years ago. She said her experience with psilocybin helped her confront the intense emotions associated with death and find peace in her dying days.
While an important milestone in the journey towards decriminalization, keep in mind that these exemptions involve only one to two instances of psychedelic therapy, not frequent usage. Also, while there are several exemptions to date, more than 150 patients’ requests have been left unread.
Journalist Curt Petrovich sat down with Nerestant to discuss the medical use of psilocybin and where the conversation goes from there. While psilocybin has shown excellent results for improving anxiety, decreasing hopelessness, and improving quality of life (in end-of-life care), and its effect is four times greater than traditional antidepressants, the sample size is incredibly small. Although, more clinical trials are on the way.
Where Health Canada Stands on Medical Psilocybin Use
Health Canada has voiced that it will take great caution in approaching broader psilocybin use as it is not approved for any medical purposes. In a statement to CBC, Health Canada said that psilocybin use is a growing area of study, but the “scientific evidence demonstrating its safety and efficacy is limited.” Petrovich notes that for this reason, clinical trials are the most probable route to regulation. Health Canada emphasizes that they will strongly rely on clinical trials to “protect patients’ interests.”
Ultimately, psilocybin is headed towards regulation. While not wholly comparable, cannabis followed a similar timeline, as the drug was “forced to be allowed for a medical prescription between a doctor and a patient” in 2001.
Petrovich also outlined three hurdles to overcome in the path to psilocybin regulation. He cites a lot of confusion surrounding psilocybin use, as many are vehemently opposed to decriminalizing magic mushrooms in the same capacity as cannabis. Although, cannabis and its uses are vastly different from psilocybin mushrooms. Thus, it is likely to be regulated as a prescribed treatment rather than an over-the-counter product of any kind. Second, with an impending federal election, politicians are not expected to open a policy debate mere months before the polls open to avoid agitating voters. Finally, there is a significant stigma around psychedelics, with the trickle-down effect from the war on drugs still present.
For these reasons, any news on psilocybin legislation is likely to wait until at least next year.
TheraPsil Submits a Regulation Proposal for Magic Mushrooms
While official word on psilocybin law may be put on hold, Canadian interest groups are working hard to make structural changes. TheraPsil is a BC-based non-profit organization comprised of healthcare professionals, patients, community members, and advocates in the psilocybin space. Recently, they challenged Health Canada’s prohibition against magic mushrooms and their psychedelic properties.
TheraPsil’s goal is to provide “compassionate treatment for Canadians in palliative care who suffer from end-of-life distress.” They recently submitted a detailed 165-page proposal to Health Canada. The document covers a wide range of topics, including licensing growers & sellers, growing locations, quality control, and production thresholds.
TheraPsil’s four pillars hinge on compassionate access to psilocybin, public education, professional training, and facilitating research on its effects and benefits.
TheraPsil was influential in facilitating the first round of compassionate-use exemptions in 2020 and has raised $55,950 out of $200,000 in their goal towards legalizing therapeutic psilocybin in Canada.
As we look towards the future, it is uncertain where psilocybin law goes next or how fast any progress towards regulation will progress.