Canada’s federal healthcare policy is paving a path toward clinical psychedelic therapy.
The country’s first 17 healthcare professionals to possess and use psilocybin for professional training in psilocybin therapy have been approved by Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, announced non-profit patient-rights advocacy group TheraPsil in a statement Tuesday. The approved individuals are all associated with the group, which will administer the training.
On Aug. 4, Hajdu started granting access to psilocybin for Canadians with end-of-life distress via section 56 exemptions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. To date, 14 citizens have legally accessed psilocybin therapy. However, in November officials turned down a petition read in the House of Commons to decriminalize psychedelics.
A so-called renaissance of psychedelic medicine has been led by research institutions like Johns Hopkins University, and a wave of legal easing has followed both south and north of the border.
Part of the new training program involves experiential learning, where trainees take psilocybin mushrooms themselves with a trained guide to become familiar with the substance’s effects. The approved individuals include psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical counselors, social workers, general practitioners and nurses.
TheraPsil says it’s been inundated with patient requests for support, noting the need for healthcare professionals trained in psilocybin therapy who can provide high-quality patient care in this unique format. To address this demand, TheraPsil has developed a targeted training program.
From June 18th onwards, healthcare professionals involved with TheraPsil began applying for their own section 56 exemptions to access psilocybin for professional training purposes.
TheraPsil founder and clinical psychologist Bruce Tobin says Health Canada’s decision is a huge milestone in Canadian medical history.
“Our government has recently become a world-leader in allowing patients access to psilocybin to treat end-of-life distress and with these new approvals for therapists, Health Canada now rightfully acknowledges that clinician experience with psychedelic medicines is an important part of their training,” he said. “Therapists having psychedelic experience are able to more deeply empathize with patients and understand their experience.”
It’s a given that any guide wishing to lead journeyers across potentially challenging terrain should be intimately familiar with that terrain, says Dr. Sean O’Sullivan, medical director at TheraPsil.
“This principle is no different in the realms of psyche and spirit. Realms of the unconscious revealed by psychedelic medicines are unusual, to say the least, and a deep familiarity with them is a prerequisite for a psychedelic guide,” he explains. “We are grateful that Health Canada has followed the expert consensus in recognizing this extremely important aspect of psychedelic psychotherapy.”
The advocacy group recognizes support from officials including Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry and Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly.
TheraPsil is fundraising so it can continue to facilitate access to psilocybin therapy, and launch its training program for healthcare professionals next year. Individuals experiencing end-of-life distress are encouraged to confidentially contact TheraPsil on its website.
Top image: Two guides monitoring the experiences of a subject of a psychedelic treatment study at Johns Hopkins University in 2008. Photo by Matthew W. Johnson via Wikimedia Commons