The Canadian government will allow four patients with incurable cancer to receive psilocybin therapy, which uses the drug found in the so-called “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms,” to ease their end-of-life distress.
The landmark decision by Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, marks the first time since 1974 that a legal exemption has been given in Canada for patients to access psychedelic treatment, according to a news release on Tuesday by TheraPsil, a non-profit organization working to help Canadians gain access to psilocybin therapy.
Laurie Brooks, one of the four terminally ill patients, expressed her gratitude for the approval, which comes over 100 days after the four patients made their plea to the government.
“The acknowledgment of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result,” Brooks said in a statement. “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.”
Thomas Hartle, another one of the patients, told CTV News in June that thinking about his inevitable death triggered his anxiety on a daily basis.
“It gives you a rapid heart rate. It makes you feel terrible,” he told the Canadian TV network, adding that his anti-anxiety medication wasn’t helping as much as he wanted.
That’s why he and three others urged the government to make a legal exemption for them to use the drug, which has been illegal in Canada for about 46 years.
Growing research has shown that psilocybin, the drug found in psychedelic mushrooms, significantly relieves anxiety and depression in patients with advanced cancer.
A study published earlier this year by researchers at NYU Langone Health found that among 29 patients with cancer-related anxiety and depression who were given a single dose of psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy, about 60 to 80% showed clinically significant reductions in depression, anxiety and existential distress and improved attitudes toward death.
About 3 to nearly 5 years later, 15 of the patients showed long-term improvements, the study said. More than 70% of them attributed positive life changes to the therapy experience, rating it among “the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives,” according to the study.
esearch increasingly underscores psilocybin’s efficacy in alleviating anxiety and depression in advanced cancer patients. A recent study by NYU Langone Health revealed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and existential distress among patients who received psilocybin combined with psychotherapy. Remarkably, 60 to 80% of participants showed clinically significant improvements, with 15 patients experiencing enduring benefits almost five years later.
Beyond symptom relief, over 70% credited the therapy with positive life changes, deeming it among their most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences. This growing body of evidence underscores the potential of psilocybin therapy in addressing mental health challenges in a profound and lasting manner.
As Canada pioneers legal access to psilocybin therapy for terminally ill patients, the broader implications on mental health treatment are undeniable. The move reflects a shifting perspective, recognizing the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances. The hope is that this precedent sparks wider discussions and initiatives, ultimately fostering greater accessibility to innovative treatments for mental health across the nation.