Home LATEST NEWS HEALTH Access to psychedelic therapy in Canada: where do we stand?

Access to psychedelic therapy in Canada: where do we stand?

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Since January, changes to this program allow doctors to submit a request to prescribe to a patient certain psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) as well as substances with comparable effects such as MDMAwhich otherwise remain illegal in Canada.

Conditions (New window) are strict: only one patient suffering from a serious or life-threatening illness can qualify, when conventional treatments have failed, are unsuitable or not available in Canada, says Health Canada. Each request is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

As of June 30, Health Canada had received 33 requests for access to psilocybin under the NOTaccording to a spokeswoman, andrequests involving 23patients have been authorized”,”text”:”19requests involving 23patients have been authorized”}}’>19 requests involving 23 patients were authorized; 4 requests for MDMA have also been made, and other requests are currently being examined.

Thomas Hartle, 54, was one of the first patients to benefit from this new system. Suffering from advanced colon cancer, he was able to receive psilocybin during group therapy in April, to treat his anxiety related to his diagnosis and the end of life.

Thomas Hartle, seated on a couch, in videoconference.

Thomas Hartle underwent several sessions of therapy assisted by psilocybin, to alleviate the anxiety related to the devastating effects of his cancer.

Photo: Zoom

It was not his first contact with these magic mushrooms. Already in 2020, he had received a rare exemption* (see box below) allowing him to follow several sessions. The impact on his daily life, the acceptance of the disease, is immense, he testifies.

50, so quite high. And the next day my score was down to 6″,”text”:”On an anxiety scale, the day before my [première] psilocybin session, I got a score of 36 out of 50, so quite high. And the next day my score was down to 6″}}”>On an anxiety scale, the day before my [première] psilocybin session, I got a score of 36 out of 50, so quite high. And the next day my score was down to 6he says.

I was living in a state where I couldn’t even function, and the thought that I could have spent the last two years in this state of pain…I don’t know if I could have lived with that. »

A quote from Thomas Hartle

So this therapeutic tool has really been very positive for me.

One more stepbut still obstacles

Dr. Michael Verbora thinks that the use of these drugs in mental health, in a clinical context and under the supervision of professionals, deserves to be developed.

This Toronto doctor is the medical director of Field Trip Healtha network of clinics established in Canada, the United States and the Netherlands, which specialize in the use of ketamine to treat severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Ketamine is not psychedelic in the strict sense, but is akin to it. It does not require special dispensation, unlike magic mushrooms, and is already widely used in medicine as an anesthetic and in antidepressants.

The doctor, sitting on a couch in a therapy room, behind some plants.

Dr. Michael Verbora, medical director of a network of therapy clinics

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Rozenn Nicolle

Openness to the use of other drugs under the NOT is a not in the right directionaccording to Dr. Verbora. But it remains inaccessible for most people who would need it. It’s also expensive because it’s intensive, and it’s still a little stigmatized.

Psychedelic therapy is still in its infancy. »

A quote from Dr Michael Verbora

The doctor is currently preparing the files of several patients who wish to have access to psilocybin therapy, and stresses that it is a laborious process with lots of paperwork.

1980.”,”text”:”You have to find the names of the doctors or therapists they have consulted in the past, the programs they have followed, what medications they have taken and at what dose, for how long . But for a patient who is in the palliative stage, I don’t see how it’s useful to know what drugs he used in the 1980s.”}}”>It is necessary to find the names of the doctors or therapists they have consulted in the past, the programs they have followed, what medications they have taken and at what dose, for how long. But for a patient who is in the palliative stage, I don’t see how it’s useful to know what drugs he used in the 1980s.

Thomas Hartle had to travel to British Columbia for his last session of psilocybin this spring, while he lives in Saskatoon. He was unable to find a doctor near his home to take care of his request at NOT.

It’s too bad, because many people don’t necessarily have access to a doctor who is qualified to offer this kind of therapy or who feels they have the necessary knowledge on the subject.

It also confirms that it is an expensive option.hours. You are not going to pay a medical professional for this duration for a pittance […]. And it’s not covered by insurance right now.”,”text”:”A session of psilocybin can last up to eight hours. You are not going to pay a medical professional for this duration for a pittance […]. And it’s not covered by insurance right now.”}}”>A psilocybin session can last up to eight hours. You are not going to pay a medical professional for this duration for a pittance […]. And it’s not covered by insurance right now.

A man holding magic mushrooms.

Psilocybin is contained in what are commonly called “magic mushrooms”.

Photo: Chris Corday

Dr. Verbora believes these barriers lead patients to risk self-medication and turn to the black market. But what we really need to do is create incentives for people to seek care in a safe space and in a medical culture where we can protect them.

The use of these substances, he adds, must above all not be seen as a wonder curebut a tool paired with psychotherapy for longer-term work.

Plea for more research

At this time, Health Canada is unable to draw conclusions about the use of psychedelic drugs by the NOTbut notes that participating practitioners are required to provide feedback to the program.

The purpose of this feedback is to understand an individual’s response to the use of a particular therapy for a particular therapeutic purpose.

To assess safety or effectiveness more broadly, Health Canada relies primarily on potential clinical trials.

But research in this area, especially good research are still lacking, says Rotem Petranker, associate director of the University of Toronto’s Psychedelic Science Research Program and co-founder of the Canadian Center for Psychedelic Science.

The importance of good science in this ongoing revolution cannot be overstated. »

A quote from Rotem Petranker

He is preparing to launch, in the coming weeks, clinical trials on the microdosing of psilocybin, that is to say taking sub-hallucinogenic small amounts of psychedelics.

Our group will largely be made up of people with persistent depressive disorder […]. And we will include people from all walks of life, of all ages, genders, ethnicitieshe says.

Rotem Petranker standing in his living room.

Rotem Petranker is Associate Director of the Psychedelic Science Research Program at the University of Toronto.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Peter Turek

The researcher has been working on this project for several years, and has observed a certain encouraging change in perception. At first, I remember it was a definite no. “What are you doing?” But over time, I think Health Canada has changed a lot, they seem quite open now to this kind of work.

I think there is a recognition, on the one hand, of the seriousness of the mental health crisis and on the other hand, of the few tools we have in our toolbox to deal with it.

Enthusiasm in the industry

The development of this area also begins, at the same time, to arouse the interest of investors. This is what Leila Rafi, partner at McMillan LLPa business law firm advising clients in the psychedelic industry.

In addition to changes to NOTcertain recent events such as the announcement of the decriminalization of small quantities of drugs in British Columbia in 2023 add to this context of growing openness, according to the lawyer.

I think during COVID there was a shift, people started accepting unconventional ways to deal with some issues that have been there for a long timeshe says.

Leila Rafi, sitting in a chair in a law office.

Leila Rafi is a lawyer, specializing in financial markets and securities law.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Peter Turek

companies that have listed their securities on the Canadian stock exchange. And a third of those companies have made those entries in the past year. A lot of companies are very interested in research and clinical trials and hope to have treatment centers if the regulations become more permissive.”,”text”:”I see investors willing to put real money into the industry. At last count, we had approximately 60 companies listing their securities on the Canadian stock exchange. And a third of those companies have made those entries in the past year. Many companies are very interested in research and clinical trials and hope to have treatment centers if regulations become more permissive.”}}”>I see investors willing to actually invest money in the industry. At last count, we had about 60 companies listed on the Canadian stock exchange. And a third of those companies have made those entries in the past year. Many companies are very interested in research and clinical trials and hope to have treatment centers if regulations become more permissive.

In the 1960s and before, it was partly the heavy recreational use that pushed the public opinion later to view these drugs in a more negative way. And so it’s almost like they’re going through a period of rebirth here.

With the collaboration of Rozenn Nicolle

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