“A horrible injustice”: Rally calls for legalized medicinal psilocybin ahead of MAID expansion

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      A rally outside the BC Legislature in Victoria today is calling for the legalization of medical use of psilocybin.

      The event, organized by the Victoria Association for Psychedelic Studies (VAPS) and therapeutic psilocybin non-profit TheraPsil, comes ahead of the planned expansion of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) to cover people with only mental symptoms, which is set to pass into federal law next spring.

      “People are going to have their medically-assisted death covered [by government funding], but they won’t have their psilocybin therapy covered,” says Daniel Kopaee, director of VAPS and a psychology student at the University of Victoria. “It seems like a horrible injustice in the long lens of history, and just in basic medical ethics.”

      Currently, people who want to try to use psilocybin or MDMA legally to treat a mental illness have only a couple of options: finding a research trial, or applying to the federal Special Access Program (SAP). While there is some framework in place to help streamline psychedelic SAP applications, requests are approved on a case-by-case basis and there’s no guarantee applications will be accepted. 

      “It’s a terribly inefficient process,” Kopaee says. “At one point, all SAP requests were getting denied, and then a couple of months after that they were all getting approved, and then denied again. It’s all this back and forth with the bureaucrats and Health Canada, even though doctors and therapists of these patients are fully for [the treatment].”

      The rally, which begins at 1pm, will feature speakers from VAPS and TheraPsil advocating for expanding legal access to psilocybin to help treat mental illnesses. The core premise is that if the government will pay for people with treatment-resistant mental illness to have a medically-assisted death due to implacable suffering, individuals should be able to access all kinds of treatment that might be able to relieve their conditions.

      Studies have found psilocybin-assisted therapy—taking the substance in conjunction with therapy sessions—is often very effective at tackling conditions like depression and anxiety, and can have long-lasting positive effects. Therefore, activists argue, if more people are going to be eligible for MAID, they should also be eligible for therapy that could cure their need for MAID.   

      “It’s a demonstrative effort to voice the gross injustice of this sort of health policy and legislation, as well as to call attention to this,” Kopaee says.

      He stresses that, while doing psychedelics recreationally or without supervision can have positive effects on mental health, they are lobbying specifically for the combination of psilocybin with more conventional therapy. 

      “The treatment is the psychotherapy in conjunction with the drug. The drug is not the treatment,” he says. “When you get psychedelic therapy covered, you don’t get the cost of the drugs covered—you get the cost of the drugs plus the time of the therapists.”

      More actions are planned in the future, he adds. 

      “We really hope to do something like this again, in the next three to four months, and do it while the parliamentary legislature is in session,” he says. “And have not just pharmaceutical companies representing something that is, at its core, a pretty grassroots thing.” 

      Psilocybin for medical use rally 

      When: September 15, 1pm

      Where: BC Legislature Grounds, 501 Belleville Street, Victoria

      More info: @TheraPsil