Canadians with Mental Health Conditions Receive Legal Access to Psilocybin Mushrooms – Culture Magazine

Three Canadians struggling with mental health conditions have received exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act from the federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos.

The Section 56 exemptions, which was granted last Monday, allow the individuals to legally undergo psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. The patients had waited up to 283 days for a response and were assisted in their applications by TheraPsil, a British Columbia-based nonprofit coalition that has been advocating for legal, compassionate access to psilocybin therapy since 2019.

TheraPsil has now helped 47 patients secure Section 56 exemptions, with the first four occurring in August 2020. TheraPsil CEO Spencer Hawkswell called these recent exemptions “the most important news that we’ve had since then.”

In an interview with The GrowthOp, Hawkswell said, “This is a very clear indication that exemptions are now available for people who have anxiety, depression, addiction, and chronic pain. It opens it up to everyone.”

According to TheraPsil, these exemptions show a shift in the criteria the minister is using to approve patients. Since his appointment in October, Duclos had previously only granted exemptions to patients who are in palliative care or suffering from a terminal diagnosis.

Hawkswell adds that while the news is positive, there are at least 15 other applicants in the queue. Some have been waiting well over 200 days.

“The process is still broken,” he says. “It’s ad hoc, and I’m sure Health Canada is just ceding some ground to us here slowly. But we’re going to be pressing forward. We’re going to be supporting other patients who have been waiting months and months as well.”

Earlier this year, TheraPsil filed a mandamus application to compel the health minister to make a decision regarding one of the patient’s Section 56 exemption. According to Hawkswell, Health Canada fought that application “tooth and nail” and the organization spent upwards of $10,000 on legal fees.

Their work paid off because the patient received their exemption on December 13.

In addition to securing exemptions for prospective patients, the organization also advocates for exemptions for healthcare professionals for training purposes.

Dr. Neil Hanon was one of the 19 healthcare professionals to receive an exemption last year. A clinical assistant professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry, Hanon describes himself as a traditional psychiatrist, but says there “is an emerging new paradigm for psychiatry.”

“Our traditional treatments work, but not as well as we would like, and not for everybody and not for every condition,” he said. “What I do is, I try to decrease people’s psychiatric pain. As a physician, what I want is anything that works to help people, and this is one of those things. Combining psychotherapy with these compounds, that can really help people. What people need to understand is that we are working at decreasing the pain in people’s lives, and this does work.”

Now, alongside a few other physicians, Hanon organizes annual retreats to Jamaica where psilocybin is legal, and works with patients who have lost children. His son died in a car accident when he was 17.

“These hallucinogenic compounds are very, very useful in people who are having problems with concerns of a spiritual nature,” he said. He adds that end-of-life distress and grief over the loss of a child is “really about trying to make sense of what death means and what real spirituality is.”

Jim Doswell, 67, applied for an exemption last spring. Beyond a confirmation of receipt of his application, he has yet to hear anything else. Doswell has two types of cancer in remission and also suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

He said he is “thrilled” for the people whose exemptions were approved, but adds the process is an “uneven application of Canadian law.”

“What was the decision-making process that approved theirs and not mine?” he asks.

Doswell points to Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which ensures that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.

“If it’s good enough for Harry, who’s got anxiety and is recovering from cancer and has made an application, then it’s good enough for Jim,” he said. “There should be no differentiations like that under the law. That’s not what builds a civil society.”

About eight weeks ago, Doswell took a therapeutic psilocybin dosage under the guidance of two professionals. A lifelong alcoholic, he says his desire to drink is gone and he no longer has any measurable anxiety.

“I would like to continue this therapy legally,” he said. “I think that would be really a kind thing for my government to do, is not criminalize my recovery. It works. It worked for me. It may not work for you. And it may not work for someone else, but it worked for me, and in almost a miraculous way.”

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