Canada has a history of embracing novel healthcare policies and as a result, the country has become a hub for psychedelic research and companies operating in the space. Ketamine clinics are found throughout Canada, while medical professionals can apply to use psilocybin to treat patients with various disorders through Section 56 exemptions. Many psychedelic companies are listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange and have their headquarters in the country.
Psychedelics in Canada: A Brief History
Psychedelic research has a long history in Canada. In the 1950s in Saskatchewan, the province underwent massive healthcare reforms, awarding researchers grants to pursue LSD treatments they thought could revolutionize psychiatry. Most famously, Humphrey Osmond and Abraham Hoffer began treating alcoholics with LSD and had great success in alleviating withdrawal symptoms and even promoting abstinence in some alcoholoics. These researchers were also experimenting with other psychedelics like mescaline and peyote as they searched for alternatives for electroshock therapy and lobotomies that were often used for treating mental disorders at the time.
Politicians in Canada have long supported drug decriminalisation, even when it put the country at odds with the international community. At the same time as the UN published the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the U.S. passed the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and the U.K. enacted the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, Canada’s Le Dain Commission was recommending that regulations be loosened and that drugs be gradually decriminalised. To find out more about the state of the laws and regulations surrounding psychedelics in Canada, check out the latest report from Psychedeliclaw.ca “State of Canadian Psychedelic Law 2022.” Alas, in 1996 the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was passed, which classified drugs into eight schedules, I to VIII, similar to the U.S. framework.
Psychedelics in Canada Today
In 2018, Canadas liberal attitude toward drug policies resulted in the federal legalisation of cannabis, making Canada the first the first G8 country to do so and setting a trend that resulted in a UN Commission voting to declassify the drug in 2020. As the world caught up with Canada’s progressive drug policy, Health Canada continued to be a leader in the field by granting exemptions from the Controlled Drug and Substances Act for researchers, drug developers, medical practitioners and patients to access psilocybin.
In 2020, the federal regulator, Health Canada, granted over 20 exemptions to access psilocybin. At the time, the Health Minister of Canada, Patty Hajdu, approved the use of psilocybin therapy for four patients with anxiety resulting from terminal cancer, making them the first exemptions for the use of a psychedelic treatment in Canada since 1974. After the initial four patients, 24 more have been granted Section 56 exemptions.
Since the landmark decision, the reasons for Section 56 exemptions have been expanded, enabling for-profit and non-profit companies to cultivate, harvest, process and study psilocybin producing fungi. If these exemptions show exceptional results, it is hoped psilocybin’s therapeutic use may be recognised and legalised.
In October 2020, Numinus Wellness harvested Canada’s first legal flush of psilocybe mushrooms, with the favourable regulatory climate encouraging the relocation of burgeoning psychedelic companies abroad. The Canadian Securities Exchange became the ‘de facto’ trading platform for U.S. cannabis operators to connect with investors. Psychedelic companies, such as Braxia Scientific, are following a similar route, with over US$330 million being raised on the exchange in the first half of 2021 alone.
In addition to significant steps towards the regulation of psilocybin, in 2021, Health Canada made a momentous decision on MDMA-assisted therapy, approving a clinical trial to investigate the compound’s safety and efficacy in combating treatment-resistant PTSD. The study not only hopes to identify MDMA’s suitability for regulation but also opportunities to streamline treatments to reduce costs and promote their adoption. The demand for novel treatments and restricted drugs is so high that Health Canada has restored its Special Access Programme, to make it easier for researchers and healthcare professionals to obtain banned compounds for treatment-resistant disorders.
With a history of embracing progressive health policies, and by demonstrating support for psychedelic medicines by providing legal exemptions for patients and through the revival of the Special Access Programme, many psychedelic companies and investors are venturing that Canada may be the first country to enact federal legislation authorising psychedelic medicines. If correct, this could provide these stakeholders with a crucial first-mover advantage.
In Canada, an advocacy group made up of healthcare professionals, TheraPsil, was established in 2017; its mission is to promote the compassionate use of psychedelics. The group successfully challenged the illegality of psilocybin by petitioning Health Canada to allow access to mushrooms in a medical setting for those patients in palliative care who were experiencing psychological distress due to their terminal diagnoses. TheraPsil is accredited with making the initial exemptions for psilocybin treatment possible in 2020. The organisation is continuing their advocacy work to see the policies surrounding these drugs changed.
Since then 2020, 17 healthcare professionals have also been granted exemptions to possess and ingest psilocybin themselves in training to learn what processes their patients go through thanks to the work of TheraPsil. Still, these approvals for both patients and provides are sometimes taking more than 100 days to be granted and as of July 2021 TheraPsil is urging, via their lawyers, the Minister of Health to respond within 14 days.
Many research institutions across Canada are undertaking research with psychedelics. Two of note are the University of Toronto (UT) and Vancouver Island University (VIU). The Psychedelic Studies Research Program at UT are planning to conduct a double-blind randomized controlled trial investigating the benefits and drawbacks of microdosing psilocybin. A research group at VIU have been awarded funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for the exploration of psychedelic therapies for front-line workers.
Field Trip Health is just one of the many companies providing ketamine therapy in Canada. Next to their clinics, Field Trip are also developing novel psychedleic compounds. One of these compounds, FT-104, is similar to psilocybin and the company hopes that it can be used in the treatment of treatment-resistant depression and postpartum depression. Field Trip are also working with MAPS on an upcoming trial exploring MDMA-assisted therapy for eating disorders. Next to their operations in the U.S., MAPS Canada aims to support equitable access to legal and regulated psychedelic medicine for all Canadians.
Other companies operating in Canada include Braxia Scientific and Filament Health. Braxia are developing a network of ketamine clinics and run a program training therapists for psilocybin-assisted therapy. Filament are a drug development company aimin to make safe, natural psychedelics accessible to anyone who needs them by unlocking their healing potential through hard extraction and drug discovery science.
The Psychedelic Association of Canada is non-profit organization advocating for policy change surrounding psychedelics in Canada. Next to educating and informing the public and policymakers alike on the benefits of psychedelic therapy, this group of palliative care professionals, therapists, doctors, non-profit supports, industry, medical and legal experts are working on delivering a regulatory framework that will transform the lives of Canadians who deserve access to medicine that can help them overcome their most debilitating mental anxieties.
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