B.C. health coalition TheraPsil may go to court for compassionate access to psilocybin

The Victoria, B.C. organization is dedicated to obtaining legal access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in Canada

Psilocybin magic mushrooms

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It took a Charter challenge for cannabis to be legally accessible in Canada to people with medical needs.

Following a case brought by Terry Parker, an Ontario man suffering from epileptic seizures, the federal government in 2001 released the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations.

It may take litigation again for people to have compassionate access to another drug, psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in so-called magic mushrooms.

B.C. psychotherapist Bruce Tobin has been trying to get legal possession of psilocybin to help terminally ill patients deal with end-of-life distress.

Based on information provided by TheraPsil, a nonprofit health coalition founded by Tobin, the psychologist applied to the federal government in January 2017 for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

In early 2020, Health Canada rejected the application, citing insufficient evidence to demonstrate the medical need for psilocybin.

TheraPsil executive director Spencer Hawkswell indicated that a legal option is available.

“At present, we are considering a judicial review of our original application,” Hawkswell told CannCentral.

It is also conceivable that a Charter challenge may be brought by patients in palliative care, with the assistance of TheraPsil.

On June 1, the coalition of health-care professionals, advocates, and patients announced that it is launching a program to help terminally ill British Columbians access medically supervised, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.

In a media release, TheraPsil stated that although this therapy is “proven to be effective in reducing severe emotional distress”, the treatment is currently illegal in the country.

“Canadians with a terminal diagnosis, experiencing psychological end-of-life distress, deserve the right to try new therapies that can improve their quality of life and death,” Tobin said in the release.

Patients have to apply for a CDSA Section 56 exemption. According to this provision of the law, the minister of health has the authority to approve the application if it is deemed “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest”.

TheraPsil’s efforts around legal access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy received a boost last month when Champignon Brands Inc., a Vancouver-based psychedelics company, announced it is supporting the nonprofit.

“Through our sponsorship, the Champignon team and board are extremely proud to begin collaborating alongside TheraPsil, helping patients in palliative care access new and effective therapies,” Champignon director Pat McCutcheon said in a media release.

TheraPsil’s Hawkswell told CannCentral that Champignon “generously donated” to allow the nonprofit to “continue and accelerate” its work.

“We will use this sponsorship to deliver on our four-pillar mission: access, education, training, and research,” Hawkswell said.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo

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