Canada grants health-care pros psilocybin exemptions; TheraPsil hails “huge milestone”

Meanwhile, TheraPsil plans to launch its training program in 2021. To that end, the group hopes to raise $250,000 by the New Year

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Canada’s health minister has approved 17 health-care professionals to possess and use psilocybin. Those professionals include psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical counsellors, social workers, general practitioners, and nurses.

Federal health minister Patty Hajdu granted them exemptions to section 56(1) of the Canadian Drugs & Substances Act. Indeed, in August of this year, Hajdu began granting access to psilocybin for Canadians with end-of-life distress. To date, 14 individuals have received such exemptions, allowing them to access psilocybin therapy. 

TheraPsil, a Victoria–based coalition of health-care professionals, has advocated for legal use of therapeutic psilocybin. According to a December 8 TheraPsil press release, the group “has been inundated with patient requests for support and realizes the need for highly qualified healthcare professionals who are trained in psilocybin therapy and can provide high-quality patient care in this unique modality”.

Experiential learning

In order to fill that need, TheraPsil has been working on a training program in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for qualified health-care professionals.

As part of this program, trainees take psilocybin mushrooms themselves in the presence of a trained guide. This “experiential learning” gives trainees firsthand familiarity with what TheraPsil calls “this non-ordinary state of consciousness”. 

In June, therefore, health-care professionals associated with TheraPsil began applying for their own section 56 exemptions to access psilocybin for training purposes.

TheraPsil’s medical director, Dr. Sean O’Sullivan, said, “It is surely a given that any guide wishing to lead journeyers across potentially challenging terrain, should be intimately familiar with that terrain. This principle is no different in the realms of psyche and spirit. Realms of the unconscious revealed by psychedelic medicines are unusual, to say the least, and a deep familiarity with them is a prerequisite for a psychedelic guide.

“We are grateful that Health Canada has followed the expert consensus in recognizing this extremely important aspect of psychedelic psychotherapy,” O’Sullivan noted in conclusion. 

TheraPsil is raising funds

Meanwhile, TheraPsil plans to launch its training program in 2021. To that end, the group hopes to raise $250,000 by the New Year.

The coalition’s founder, Bruce Tobin, hailed the latest exemptions. “The road to legal psilocybin therapy has been a long one,” he said. “Health Canada’s decision represents another huge milestone in Canadian medical history.  Our government has recently become a world-leader in allowing patients access to psilocybin to treat end-of-life distress and with these new approvals for therapists, Health Canada now rightfully acknowledges that clinician experience with psychedelic medicines is an important part of their training. 

“Therapists having psychedelic experience are able to more deeply empathize with patients and understand their experience,” Tobin said. “It’s part of what helps therapists to provide the highest standard of clinical care to their patients. I join my team in expressing our thanks and our respect for Minister Patty Hajdu, for her courageous support for Canadian patients requiring psilocybin.” 

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