After waiting more than 100 days for a response, four terminally ill cancer patients have now been approved to use psilocybin to treat end-of-life distress. These patients will be the first to legally use the psychedelic in Canada for almost half a century following the country’s health minister granting them a unique special exemption.
This landmark approval was years in the making, spearheaded by non-profit advocacy group TheraPsil. Bruce Tobin, a clinical psychologist and founder of TheraPsil, first began pushing for psilocybin-use exemptions in Canada back in 2016 after learning of the extraordinary results psychedelic psychotherapy was having in helping palliative care patients deal with end-of-life anxiety.
Initially, Tobin applied for a unique status exemption to allow him to possess and administer psilocybin to palliative care patients. The exemption hinged on a highly specific clause in Canada’s Controlled Drug and Substances Act. Section 56 (1) states, the country’s health minister can allow the use of a controlled substance if that use is “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.”
Establishing TheraPsil in 2019, Tobin moved to support individual patients applying for their own Section 56 (1) exemptions. After waiting more than three months for a response, Canada’s Minister of Health Patty Hajdu finally granted exemptions to four patients, marking the first legal exemption for psilocybin use, outside of a clinical trial, since the substance was deemed illegal in 1974.
Now the precedent has been established TheraPsil anticipates more exemption applications will be submitted for this particular treatment outcome. TheraPsil is also working to obtain special exemptions that would allow therapists access to psilocybin for professional training purposes.
Laurie Brooks, one of the four terminally ill cancer patients that will receive psilocybin treatment, had this to say about the new ruling: “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. “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.”