MAPS Canada advances understanding about psychedelic medicines

For the past decade, executive director Mark Haden has been educating physicians on how these molecules could help patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and other conditions

MAPS Canada psychedelic medicines

MAPS Canada relies on public donations to fund research because governments and pharmaceutical companies aren't interested in doing this. Photo by Chris Arock/Unsplash

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Earlier this month, the movement to legalize psychedelic treatments experienced a watershed moment in Canada. Health Minister Patty Hajdu granted an exemption for end-of-life psilocybin therapy under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for four terminally ill patients. This news thrilled Mark Haden, Vancouver-based executive director of MAPS Canada (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada).

“It’s wonderful,” Haden told CannCentral by phone. “It’s long overdue.”

The adjunct professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, pointed out that Canada already grants access to medically assisted death for the terminally ill.

“Why wouldn’t you allow people who are dying to experience a mystical experience?” Haden asked. “It is completely irrational to not allow that…especially for people who are really not well at the end of their lives.”

Back in 2011, Haden launched MAPS Canada to support scientific research and education about beneficial uses of psychedelic medicines. It receives no financial support from governments or pharmaceutical companies. Instead, it relies entirely on donations from the public.

Thanks to the generosity of Canadians, MAPS Canada has entered the third phase of its clinical study on the effect of MDMA therapy on posttraumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Evan Wood, chief medical officer of Numinus Wellness, told CannCentral in May that this trial has shown astonishing results. There’s “a greater-than-90-percent likelihood of showing a statistically significant benefit on treatment of PTSD”.

According to Wood, psychedelic molecules stimulate different parts of the brain to interact in new ways.

However, therapists also play a critical role in guiding patients through the experience. And that may lead to long-lasting personality changes.

MAPS Canada supports research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in couples therapy

Haden foresees that this research will lead to the legalization of MDMA in addressing PTSD in clinics across the country.

Meanwhile, at Ryerson University in Toronto, psychologist Anne Wagner is leading another MAPS Canada–backed phase three trial. She’s exploring how MDMA can be used in couples therapy in which one partner has PTSD.

“It’s very, very difficult when your partner has trauma,” Haden said, “and so allowing the couple to work through the trauma together makes complete sense.”

In addition, MAPS Canada has launched an MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study on eating disorders. This research is taking place in three cities: Vancouver, Toronto, and Denver, Colorado. And the Vancouver-based B.C. Centre on Substance Use is conducting research on the impact of therapy augmented with psilocybin—a psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms—on people with addiction issues.

All of these studies undergo university ethics reviews.

“Our researchers have to have an affiliation with a university to make that happen,” Haden said.

At Johns Hopkins University, researchers are also looking at the effects of psilocybin therapy on addiction. According to the university’s Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research website, future studies “will determine the effectiveness of psilocybin as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (formerly known as chronic Lyme disease), anorexia nervosa and alcohol use in people with major depression”.

“The researchers hope to create precision medicine treatments tailored to the specific needs of individual patients,” the center states.

Another phase three trial, supported by U.K.-based Compass Pathways, is examining the effects of psilocybin therapy on treatment-resistant depression.

Johns Hopkins University’s Roland Griffiths is one of the world’s top researchers in this field.

Haden educates physicians about protocols

All of this has the potential to transform medical care for a variety of conditions. That, in turn, will require educating doctors on best practices for treatments that are not backed by Big Pharma.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Haden advanced these efforts by hosting three or four potlucks a year with physicians. There, he shared information about academic research into how psychedelic medicines might turn out to be a cure for posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction, anxiety, trauma, and eating disorders.

“Physicians often start their work because they want to heal people,” Haden said. “And then they find out quite quickly that most of the medications that they offer don’t heal. They manage symptoms.

“And so when I say, ‘Well, actually we can heal this and they won’t need our services anymore,’ they become incredibly interested.”

When Haden first began, one or two doctor friends would attend the potlucks. Now, he has about 40 on his list who want to show up for these events.

“When I talk to physicians who don’t know what we’re doing, a fairly common misconception is that it can be used outside of the therapeutic context,” he explained. “Because physicians are used to prescribing a drug—‘Go home, take this drug, you know, take it before bedtime, take it first thing in the morning, take it with food, take it without food.’

“Those are the kind of decisions that physicians make today,” Haden added.
He emphasized that this is not the case with psychedelic medicines. They must be taken in a “very, very carefully prescribed context”.

“So helping physicians to understand that is going to be an important part of our work.”

Charlie Smith

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

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