It’s time for Vancouver to lead the way with access to psychedelics

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      Despite the mounting evidence that supports the therapeutic use of psychedelics, not everyone is eager to adopt these medicines.

      On April 10, Vancouver City Council rejected a motion that aimed to establish a regulatory framework for retail sales of psychedelics in Vancouver. The motion was a response to the proliferation of mushroom dispensaries that have opened across the city in the past few years.

      Although we should tread carefully with our regulatory decisions, the City’s stance ignores the fact that Vancouver is the psychedelic capital of Canada and has a strong role to play in shaping policy on the national level.

      At the moment, there are over a dozen of these storefronts in Vancouver openly selling psilocybin mushrooms. Some of these, namely Dana Larsen’s Coca Leaf Cafe, are also offering other psychedelics and entheogens including DMT, LSD, and 4-ACO DMT.

      Psychedelics are not for everyone, and there are risks, both physical and psychological, from their use. But the same can be said about alcohol and tobacco: two of the most popular and prevalent substances in the world.

      With proper guidelines in place, most people manage to develop a “healthy” relationship with alcohol. Even though there are risks, we create the proper environment to mitigate them. This is called harm reduction and in effect, this is what the recent regulatory motion was set out to achieve for some psychedelics in Vancouver.

      In the press statement released by the City about the rejection, Mayor Ken Sim said that “while we acknowledge the importance of this national conversation, we firmly believe this needs to be discussed at the federal level, as they are the regulating body on the issue.”

      While federal-level discussions are important, local initiatives and discourse play an equally vital role. I would argue that Vancouver is uniquely poised with both the community foundations and collective expertise to help guide the process of what regulation could look like.

      Instead of pushing the problem up to the federal level, why not lean in and consult with some of the leading organizations that are based in and around Vancouver on this matter? 

      MAPS Canada, the PAC, and TheraPsil are all nonprofits that have been leading the way in conversations with Health Canada to determine what regulation might look like in clinical settings. 

      At The Flying Sage (also known as The Vancouver Psychedelic Society), we run five to six in-person events per week and have developed a strong community of supporting people with the preparation and integration of psychedelic experiences. Qi Integrated Health and Empower are two clinics here in Vancouver that are offering ketamine treatments to patients in clinical settings including first responders through the Helping Heroes program. Vancouver-based psychedelic brands such as YAWN and Psygaia are supporting harm reduction and education efforts while advocating for psychedelic wellness.

      The recent Council decision misses the mark in many ways, primarily because it does not acknowledge the pivotal role our city has in driving policy change. It also does not seem to consider the actual data or research around the beneficial uses of psychedelics.

      In 2022, Philippe Lucas and Stephanie Lake conducted the Canadian Psychedelic Survey—the largest survey of its kind to date. Results showed that 63 per cent of Canadians that used psychedelics for their mental health discontinued their use of traditional mental health treatments after. The survey also showed that 87 per cent of people who have used psychedelics therapeutically did so alone or with friends, and not with a professional to support them.

      These findings alone underscore the need for nuanced policies that balance safety, accessibility, and individual autonomy—and dispensaries have a large role to play in this. By embracing a community-led approach that incorporates regulated retail frameworks, clinical research, community integration, and harm reduction strategies, Vancouver can pave the way for a more equitable and compassionate psychedelic ecosystem for other Canadians.

      The world is on fire, and we’re in the middle of a critical mental health and opioid crisis. Psychedelics are powerful tools with the ability to help, but only if we develop our relationship to these medicines in the right way. It’s time for Vancouver to lead the way and leave behind a prohibition mindset. It’s time for us to have honest conversations about psychedelics and embrace their potential for healing, transformation, and connection.