Healthcare professionals okayed to use magic mushrooms for training in psilocybin therapy

Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and nurses are among 17 healthcare professionals granted the exemption by Health Canada this week

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      The use of psychedelics in therapy hit another high this week.

      A group of 17 healthcare professionals, among them psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and nurses, became the first in Canada to be granted a legal exemption to use psilocybin—the active ingredient in what are known as magic mushrooms—in their professional training in psilocybin therapy. Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu granted the exemptions this week.

      TheraPsil, the B.C.-based patient-rights advocacy group, spearheaded the lobbying effort. Earlier this year, TheraPsil helped win exemptions for psilocybin for terminally ill patients suffering from end-of-life anxiety and distress.

      TheraPsil founder and board chair Bruce Tobin described Health Canada’s decision in a press statement as “another huge milestone in Canadian medical history.

      “Health Canada now rightfully acknowledges that clinician experience with psychedelic medicines is an important part of their training,” Tobin said.

      In August, the health minister granted exemptions to four terminally patients to use psilocybin, which is among a range of psychedelics quickly finding favour among professionals in the treatment of mental health issues. The number of terminally ill patients who have since been granted an exemption by Health Canada has grown to 14. In October, the first non-palliative care patient to be granted an exemption to use psilocybin for therapy was added to the list.

      Mona Strelaeff of B.C. says she’s struggled with anxiety, depression, and addiction because of traumas she’s experienced in her life. She says psilocybin therapy allowed her to reach way back into her childhood to help deal with unresolved trauma.

      “I conquered those tough memories and after a while I realized…I ain’t scared of jack shit," she says. "For the first time, I feel like I have won the battle in my mind.”

      Research in the use of psilocybin has shown that the drug works to block activity in the brain that controls fear. The research also shows that psilocybin’s effects in therapy can last weeks and months after their initial use.

      TheraPsil says the most recent exemptions for healthcare professionals will give the organization the ability to “triage patients to ensure we are facilitating safe and equitable access to legal psilocybin therapy”.

      A number of jurisdictions in the U.S. are moving toward decriminalizing psilocybin for medical purposes as more research points to its effectiveness in treating psychological and mental health disorders, as well as addiction issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder. A proposition to legalize psilocybin was passed by the state of Oregon in the recent U.S. election.

      Discoveries on the effectiveness of psilocybin and other psychedelics (including MDMA, DMT, and LSD) in treating mental health issues date back to the 1950s and 1960s—and decades before that in the U.S and Europe. But funding for those experiments dried up when the drugs were made illegal.

      Vancouver-based Numinus Bioscience received a licence from Health Canada to grow Psilocybe mushrooms in June. The company produced its first crop for use in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in late October. The license issued by Health Canada includes research into MDMA, DMT, and mescaline.

      In Canada, psilocybin remains a controlled substance—which means it is illegal to produce, possess or sell—even as the government of Canada fast-tracks some research and its own website acknowledges that psilocybin has been used “for thousands of years” by other cultures for spiritual purposes.

      Meanwhile, a grey market offering microdoses of magic mushroom “truffles” is fast taking root online.