Why Canada Could Be Next To Allow Psychedelic Therapy (And How It’s Already Changing Lives)
Canada has an international reputation for progressive health policies, take for example its publicly funded healthcare program and its assisted dying laws. While one has gone the route of using existing legislation to help individuals apply for exemptions, another is encouraging policy changes that would allow doctors to seek access to restricted drugs for their patients.
‘The Unknown Of What Can Happen After You Die Doesn’t Feel So Unknown To Me Anymore’
It found that just a single dose of psilocybin left subjects with longstanding relief, with 78% experiencing lower rates of depression and 83% experiencing lower rates of anxiety six months after receiving the treatment. When Thomas Hartle, a 52-year-old Saskatoon resident with stage four colon cancer read the results of the study, he says he «felt like they were too good to be true». Hartle enlisted the help of TheraPsil, a non-profit organization based in Victoria, B. Using a subsection of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows the health minister to grant an exemption for medical or scientific purposes, TheraPsil has so far assisted dozens of Canadians, including terminally ill and clinically depressed patients, as well as doctors and therapists, in the application process. In August 2020, Health Minister Patty Hajdu granted the first exemptions to four Canadians suffering from end-of-life anxiety.
One of them was Hartle. The father, husband, and IT technician says his anxiety is «specialized to the existential kind and doesn’t extend to public speaking,» so he’s more than happy to share his experiences with psilocybin. Hartle adds he feels more empathy towards other people since his initial treatment, and says his family has noticed he uses more emotional words in his speech. Beyond the positive mental benefits he’s experienced, Hartle says psilocybin also helps to relieve pain associated with migraines, which he’s suffered from since he was a child.
«When I compare it to most of the other treatments that I have gone through over the last few years, psilocybin is like the opposite of side effects,» he says, laughing.
Doctors Can Access Psilocybin, Too
Emma Hapke is TheraPsil’s co-chair of research and one of 16 doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers recently granted exemptions to take psilocybin in preparation for work with patients. She is part of a committee at TheraPsil developing a training program for psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, which she hopes to kick off in 2021. She emphasizes that while psychedelic substances have been shown to provide benefit for people suffering from an array of mental health conditions, it’s imperative that any psychedelic experience be paired with therapy for maximum and longstanding relief. « We’re talking about psychedelic-assisted therapy».
Spencer Hawkswell, TheraPsil’s CEO, says before August 4, seeking exemptions for terminally ill patients felt like an uphill battle. «I never thought I’d say that it was easy, or that Health Canada has been incredibly cooperative,» he says. Recognizing the utilitarian nature of Canada’s approach to mental healthcare and drug policy, Hawkswell says that while the current system tries to meet the needs of most, it falls short. «What TheraPsil is doing is showing that there are options beyond the current policy regulations and the norm of healthcare in Canada».
Numinus Advocates For Special Access Program Reform
Health Canada’s Special Access Program allows healthcare professionals to request restricted or otherwise unavailable drugs for patients who have tried existing treatments and found them to be unsuccessful. In theory, the SAP should allow doctors to request access to drugs like psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD. On December 12, Health Canada announced its intention to reverse the regulatory changes made in 2013, and initiated a 60-day comment period seeking public feedback. Wood says by amending the SAP provision on restricted drugs, Health Canada will better align itself with the Helsinki Declaration, a set of international ethical guidelines that suggest if a patient accesses a restricted drug through a clinical trial and finds it to be beneficial, they should be entitled to receive ongoing therapy.
«This is bringing Canada in compliance with those international ethical guidelines, and kicking the door open a crack for Canada to be a real world leader in this area». While Wood acknowledges that the Covid-19 pandemic has rightfully taken the majority of Health Canada’s attention in 2020, he’s glad to see that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has risen to an area of needed focus, and gives full credit to the agency for proposing the regulatory reversal. Some might argue that decriminalization is the obvious next step, however Health Canada isn’t alluding to that just yet. «We still have much to learn about the risks, which is why the sale and possession of psilocybin is still illegal.
Until there is a sufficient evidence base, Health Canada will review each request for an exemption on a case-by-case basis».
Source: Amanda Siebert | Forbes