(TMU) – As psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms continue to gain mainstream acceptance as a therapeutic treatment, public health leaders are increasingly taking notice. And now, Canada’s top doctor has approved the use of the psychedelic substance to help ease the pain of four Canadians suffering from terminal cancer.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu introduced a new exemption to the country’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing four patients fighting incurable cancer to use psilocybin to help ease their end-of-life anxiety and pain.
The landmark move to lift the ban marks the first time any such exemption has been made, according to non-profit psilocybin therapy advocacy group TheraPsil.
Psilocybin is the main psychedelic compound produce by so-called “magic” mushrooms, and has been illegal in Canada since 1974.
The decision comes over 100 days since the four patients first requested the exemption.
“I would like to personally thank the Hon. Minister Hajdu and the team at the Office of Controlled Substances for the approval of my section 56 exemption,” said Thomas Hartle, 52, a resident from Saskatchewan who is fighting the terminal disease. “This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion. I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing.”
In June, Hartle told CTV News that one of the most debilitating effects of his terminal cancer diagnosis was his fear of death, and anti-anxiety drugs were offering little relief to the “unbearable” weight of the knowledge that he would soon die.
Laurie Brooks, who is also trying to cope with end-of-life distress, also thanked the minister, noting that the health minister and Canadian healthcare system’s recognition of her suffering is profoundly appreciated.
“I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission,” Brooks said.
Advocates and clinicians throughout North America have been increasingly vocal about psilocybin’s promising results in a range of psychotherapeutic settings, including the treatment of depression, addiction, and end-of-life distress.
End-of-life distress is broadly defined as the crippling combination of anxiety, depression, demoralization and hopelessness experienced by those facing incurable illness.
According to a December 2016 study from NYU, a single dose of psilocybin rapidly and drastically reduces depression and anxiety among cancer patients, with few side effects.
Other researchers have also found that psilocybin has provided effective help to patients struggling to quit other addictive substances such as cigarettes.
The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is also currently conducting clinical trials to find out whether the drug is suitable as a prescription drug for the U.S. market.
The newfound recognition of psilocybin therapy as a valid treatment has eroded old stereotypes of psilocybin as some intoxicating and hallucination-inducing party drug that drives its users insane – a reputation that largely grew out of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s when they were widely known as “psychedelic” or “magic” mushrooms.
In Canada, as in the United States, the drug is illegal. Health Canada notes on its website that the possession, production, or sale of magic mushrooms or anything containing psilocybin is prohibited “unless authorized for clinical trial or research purposes.”
However, advocates with TheraPsil hope that the minister of health’s exemption in this case could offer hope to those suffering from the nerve-wracking mental torment faced by patients who have no other options to find peace before they die.
“Although it has taken a long time we are impressed with their willingness to listen to patients who have not been heard and to shift focus and policy to accommodate their interests and protect their needs,” said TheraPsil founder and psychotherapist Dr. Bruce Tobin.