Legal exemption for psilocybin therapy granted to 4 dying Canadians

by Aug 4, 2020

Over 100 days after they first contacted the Health Minister of Canada--The Honourable Patty Hadju--four terminal cancer patients have been granted permission to use psilocybin therapy as a treatment for end-of-life stress and anxiety.

August 4th, 2020 – Over 100 days after they first contacted the Health Minister of Canada–The Honourable Patty Hadju–four terminal cancer patients have been granted permission to use psilocybin therapy as a treatment for end-of-life stress and anxiety.

After nearly five decades of prohibition, these four individuals are the first publicly-known recipients of a legal exemption to access psychedelic therapy in Canada. The process that bore this historic fruit is known as a Section 56 (1) application, shepherded by the Canadian non-profit TheraPsil.

From the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:

56 (1) The Minister may, on any terms and conditions that the Minister considers necessary, exempt from the application of all or any of the provisions of this Act or the regulations any person or class of persons or any controlled substance or precursor or any class of either of them if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.

 Compassionate Psychedelic Therapy

When patients receive a terminal diagnosis, there is little left to do other than optimize the quality of life and mitigate suffering. These are the core tenets of palliative care and should guide all decisions concerning those in need.

For many, suffering takes on many forms: physical, emotional, spiritual. While modern medicine has focused on the mitigation of physical suffering; centuries-old aboriginal practices have demonstrated unsurpassed strength in filling the gaps where other therapies fail. Psilocybin and other psychedelic medicines are one of the few known tools that can significantly reduce end-of-life distress.

Like medical assistance in dying (MAID), offered to certain eligible Canadians since 2016, the federal government has expressed its understanding that mentally competent adults are capable of making health decisions for themselves. When no options remain, Canada is beginning to demonstrate their trust in terminal patients to make appropriate medical choices without restriction. #RightToTry

Exempted by Health Minister Patty Hadju

This is not The Honourable Patty Hadju’s first foray into drug policy and harm prevention. From her Liberal Party bio:

“Hajdu worked mainly in the field of harm prevention, homelessness, and substance misuse prevention, including nine years as the head of the drug awareness committee of the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.”

Thankfully, this appears to have instilled the compassion to assist at least four terminal Canadians with their search for comfort from end-of-life distress. By all appearances, these are unlikely to be the last exemptions we see coming from the Office of Controlled Substances; these causes may finally–rightfully–be seen as a simple bureaucratic gesture that has the capacity to relieve unimaginable suffering.

The Canadian public supports psilocybin therapy

A recent poll of 1500 Canadians by TheraPsil and Pollara indicates that this decision is unlikely to receive undue blow-back. When asked their opinion, without background or context:

64% of Canadians express top-of-mind acceptance of “the federal government legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for medicinal use by people who are suffering from a terminal illness, such as terminal cancer”

Further, when informed about recent clinical trials, effectiveness for end-of-life distress, MAID legislation, and the four terminal section 56 (1) applicants–acceptance rises to an overwhelming 78%.

Brave faces of the #RightToTry

“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. 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” 

Thomas Hartle (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

“I want to thank the Health Minister and Health Canada for approving my request for psilocybin use.  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.” 

Laurie Brooks (British Columbia)

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