Health Minister Patty Hajdu grants exemption for end-of-life psilocybin therapy

One of the terminally ill patients said that a “positive result is possible when good people show genuine compassion”.

psilocybin therapy exemption

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has opened the door for psilocybin-augmented psychotherapy for terminally ill Canadians. Photo by Patty Hajdu

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The federal government will allow four terminally ill Canadians to consume a psychedelic drug. According to the nonprofit group TheraPsil, it’s the first time that publicly known people can legally obtain psilocybin therapy since the 1970s.

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic chemical found in a genus of gilled mushrooms known as Psilocybe.

The Canadian government outlawed this compound in Canada in 1974.

One of the applicants, Saskatoon cancer patient Thomas Hartle, publicly thanked Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

“This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion,” Hartle said in a TheraPsil news release.

“I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing.”

Hajdu granted an exemption for psilocybin therapy under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This enables the minister to bypass the ban on psychedelics if it’s “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose”. In addition, she can do this if she deems it is “otherwise in the public interest”.

TheraPsil is a Victoria–based coalition of health-care professionals who advocate for legal use of therapeutic psilocybin.

It stated that the four waited more than 100 days for a response.

Patient calls for more Canadians to have access to psilocybin therapy

Another approved patient, B.C. resident Laurie Brooks, expressed gratitude to Hajdu and TheraPsil.

“The acknowledgement of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me,” Brooks said in the news release.

She added that she’s “feeling quite emotional” as a result of Hajdu’s exemption,

“I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission.”  

TheraPsil chairman Dr. Bruce Tobin praised Hajdu and the government for listening to patients.

In addition, Tobin thanked seven MPs “who have demonstrated courage, standing up for patient rights” in helping to obtain the exemption.

Greens Paul Manly and Elizabeth May, Liberals Hedy Fry, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Helena Jaczek, and Marcus Powlowski, and Conservative Ed Fast were all named in the TheraPsil news release.

In the 2019 federal election, Jaczek defeated former health minister Jane Philpott and four other candidates in Markham-Stouffville.

Patient Laurie Brooks shares her story in the video above.

Psilocybin therapy linked to better responses to anxiety and depression

The TheraPsil website includes links to various peer-reviewed research papers dating back to 2007 “directly supporting psilocybin in treatment of end-of-life distress”.

One of those papers, published in Psychopharmacology in 2016, noted “immediate, substantial, and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression”.

This “led to decreases in cancer-related demoralization and hopelesssness, improved spiritual wellbeing, and increased quality of life”.

In a follow-up six-and-a-half months later, the researchers at New York University and Palo Alto University reported “clinically significant reductions in depression or anxiety” in 60 to 80 percent of research participants. There were 29 subjects who took the medication.

“The psilocybin-induced mystical experience mediated the therapeutic effect of psilocybin on anxiety and depression,” they noted.

TheraPsil does not help patients acquire magic mushrooms, nor does it advocate for the illegal use or possession of psilocybin. Nor does it encourage self-medicating.

“Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy refers to the professionally guided use of psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy and differs greatly from the recreational use of psychedelics,” it states on its website.

“Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy involves a rigorous and clinically tested treatment protocol that encompasses careful medical oversight of the treatment session, as well as pre- and post-psychotherapy sessions that help prepare an individual for lasting healing.”

Petition seeks decriminalization of some psychedelics

In April, CannCentral reported that one of the Green MPs, Manly, has sponsored a House of Commons–initiated petition to decriminalize magic mushrooms.

Canadian Psychedelic Association founding member Trevor Millar launched the petition.

It cited “mounting peer-reviewed evidence that these traditional remedies support recovery from addiction, and mitigate mental health suffering while having minimal toxicity when used responsibly and in accordance with best practices”.

Charlie Smith

I'm the editor of the Georgia Straight newspaper in Vancouver, as well as a CannCentral contributor.

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