CANNABIS CULTURE – “I felt just generally happier right away, and by week 2 I was feeling a more general calmness when I normally have a floating anxiety all the time. I have noticed that talking about things related to my traumas has been much easier. I can speak about things more matter of fact and less emotionally driven. I feel a much greater sense of empathy.” says Jason B., a young man from Newark, New Jersey, who once dealt with devastating anxiety and depression.
Jason recalls always enjoying psychedelics, and a few years ago he spent a couple months experimenting with acid on the weekends. This experience led him to recall some deeply buried trauma in his life that he was then left to face. At first this was a lot to handle for him, but as he worked his way through his emerging memories, he came to the realization that if psychedelics could actually unlock these repressed events, then they should also be useful in helping him work through them if he was open to it. Jason decided to start looking into microdosing mushrooms and the experiences that others had in doing so. Since then, he started taking a 0.2 g capsule daily, often before heading to bed. Initially he was trying to take them during the day and had associated nausea, so he started experimenting with different administration times and saw his nausea fade within a few weeks, and he was able to share his experience with me as quoted above. Psilocybin dosing changed Jason’s life for the better, and he is one of many examples.
Another example of the life-changing effects of medicinal mushroom use was told by Malcom M., a student and 2-time cancer survivor from Nanaimo, BC. Suffering from PTSD, depression, and anxiety, there were many days where Malcom has felt his that life is simply not worth living. Traditional medications had not proven effective, and neither had counselling. On his own, he decided to start microdosing magic mushrooms. It was a guessing game as this was not something he could do with the support of a healthcare provider as there were none who knew anything about the medicinal effects or would be capable of prescribing it. Immediately, however, he started to see improvements in his mood. “I take a little bit before bed, and now I wake up in the morning and can shower, eat, and function,” says Malcom. Suddenly he could sleep at night, felt less hopeless, and found himself more equipped to perform his basic activities of daily living. Now Malcom is left trying to find a safe and reliable source so that he can continue to feel this improvement in his life.
Of course, in these examples, both of these men have used psilocybin dosing illegally to manage their ailments. But many Canadians and Americans are also facing end-of-life challenges. Pharmaceuticals and conventional treatments have not been able to save them, and that is where our pioneers in advocacy have stepped in to make a difference.
With the exception of decriminalization in Colorado, Denver, and Santa Cruz, California, the possession, sale, transport, and most often cultivation of Psilocybin mushrooms and psylocin (the psychedelic chemical your body naturally creates when eating psilocybin) is illegal throughout the US. In Canada, the same was true until recently when 4 Canadians were given special permission from Health Canada in a groundbreaking ruling on August 4, 2020, to allow the use of medical mushrooms for palliative care. In numerous studies over the decades, mushrooms have been proven to be safe for consumption and medical treatment in patients. According to TheraPsil, one of the leaders in the psilocybin research and advocacy world, literally thousands of documented cases exist in official studies of the positive effects and safety of psilocybin dosing in patients. In fact, the 4 patients who have been approved for this therapy are patients of TheraPsil, with these approvals facilitated through Minister Patty Hajdu, who has been willing to work with TheraPsil in finding a way to achieve their goals in a compassionate and equitable way.
Dr Tobin is a psychotherapist and the founder and chairman of TheraPsil, which he describes as “a coalition of healthcare professionals, advocates, patients, and policy makers that is dedicated to helping Canadians gain access to psilocybin therapy.” This incredible organization was realized to be essential in 2016 when one of his clients came to him with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He says she “had tried everything to deal with debilitating anxiety and depression. She asked if I would supervise a clinical psychedelic therapy session in hopes that it would help her existential distress.. I was very torn between the illegality of supervising a psychedelic therapy and also my knowledge that his could be a very beneficial treatment, and that it is my duty to treat patient to the best of my knowledge.“
“In 2017 I applied for a Section 56 exemption under the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act, asking the government for the approval to treat terminally ill patients with psilocybin. Unfortunately, my exemption on behalf of terminally ill Canadians was rejected in early 2020. In 2019, I founded TheraPsil.. It has been a long road, and there is still much work to be done.”
Tobin continues, “I know there are hundreds, if not thousands of more Canadians with debilitating anxiety and depression as a result of a diagnosis, who could benefit from psilocybin therapy. One of our challenges now is showing the government that more individuals who need access to this therapy exist.. I believe that the decision to access psilocybin therapy should be made between a patient and their doctor, not between a patient and the government.”
“Another challenge we are facing is public education and advocacy around healthcare practitioner access to psilocybin for professional training. It is widely believed in the psychedelic community that for a therapist to be properly trained in this modality, they need to have first-hand experience with psychedelics such as psilocybin. I’ve likened this before to deciding to go to a sex therapist who has never had sex – it just doesn’t make sense.”
“We have helped 9 healthcare practitioners (doctors and therapists) apply for their own Section 56 exemptions on the grounds that they should have access to psilocybin personally so they can engage in professional training in psilocybin therapy, to ensure they can provide the highest quality and well-informed patient care. We are still waiting to hear back from the Minister of Health about these applications.”
Luckily TheraPsil has never had to face protestors or anti-decriminalization groups who have attempted to thwart their work, but that does not mean that the response to decriminalization has been overwhelmingly positive. There are still many people who believe that the decriminalization of “street drugs” inany form is dangerous, irresponsible, and unnecessary.
Jay R. from Oregon is one such person who believes publicly and passionately that mushroom decriminalization should not be permitted. He likened people who want to see a move forward in legalization as having devolved into “a spoiled kindergarten classroom.” He said, “Once upon a time people enjoyed a nice dinner surrounded by family in the evenings and it was something to look forward to. These days people predicate their days on the drug they’ll ingest during the day. Those same people flock.. to ridicule those who realize drugs are pretty bad.. and those around you suffer your bad choices.. you’ll fade as a human as you age each year and lose out on more time in this life than you’ll ever realize.”
Jay goes on to say, “Supposedly the “shrooms” will be given on proper doses to treat depression and other ailments classified as ‘psychiatric disorders.’ This means the drug would be dispensed by a psychiatrist as opposed to a therapist. A therapist is who refers you to a psychiatrist. Once that happens in your life, your name ends up in a database. If you’re using shrooms, your name will go to the D.E.A. database as those taking Vicodin/Percocet do. Now you live under a life of scrutiny. If you’re a gun owner, say goodbye to your fancy guns because you surrender that right once a psychiatrist meets with you. I know dozens of people who were on shrooms at some point in their lives. They were miserable while on them then and still miserable off them now. This is the next legal opioid wave where pain management clinics are packed with folks waiting for a new (mushroom) prescription.”
As much as Jay may be misinformed about the intent and end result of decriminalization, he does make a point in how patients will be able to access psilocybin. By taking the conversation outside of doctor and patient confidentiality, a person is opening themselves up to all sorts of ramifications, which can lead to a person feeling unsafe or turning to the black and gray markets. This could potentially lead to misdosing and a further decline in their mental state.
As explained by Tobin, “The first step, gaining compassionate access for a handful of Canadians, has been achieved, but we are far from done.” The bottom line is that doctors must be able to be the “gatekeepers” for patient access, certified medicinal psilocybin must be available and accessible to those who need it, patients must be allowed to grow their own, and healthcare practitioners need to have access.
Unlike what many anti-decriminalization defenders believe, the intent is not for people to be behind the wheels of vehicles tripping on psychedelics, nor is it to fill our waiting rooms with drug-seeking individuals out for their next high. After legalizing cannabis, it was found by the National Cannabis Survey that the likelihood of individuals driving while under influence of marijuana had not changed since pre-legalization, and that people were 3 times more likely to get their cannabis products from a safe and legal source. It only makes sense that the same would be true with mushrooms.
While there is always a possibility for misuse, we must continue to defend our rights as citizens to have access to safe and effective means of treatments. We must support our medical professionals who want to make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering daily. Living in fear of what might happen does not mean we can ignore the real benefits for thousands who need a legal option for medically regulated and informed psilocybin use. The decriminalization of medical psilocybin is crucial, and engaging in open and honest discourse about it allows us to change perceptions and hopefully one day see this goal realized.
For those interested in supporting the work of TheraPsil, donations can be made at https://therapsil.ca/contact-us/#donors
For those who would like support and encouragement in facing end-of-life treatment and challenges, TheraPsil is currently accepting patients who fit into the inclusion criteria and can help with Section 56 applications at https://therapsil.ca/contact-us/#patients
For those in the medical field who are interested in learning more and participating in future training, they can contact TheraPsil at https://therapsil.ca/contact-us/#healthcare
Feature image courtesy Free Thought Project