Canada Is the New Hotbed for Psychedelics
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While Canadians are still getting used to medicinal and recreational cannabis, the research into medical-assisted drugs doesn’t stop there. Yes, apart from having superior cannabis, Canada is also the seed and budding flower for research into psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Psychedelics have been providing spiritual and medicinal benefits to various cultures for centuries. Now, in our current mental health crisis, Canada is the home base for research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs, as exemptions and scientific breakthroughs continue to push us that much closer to solutions and medically recognized uses for psychedelics.
What are psychedelics?
Psychedelics are a class of psychoactive substances, either produced naturally or synthetically, that may affect perception, mood, and cognitive processes. For right now, we’ll focus on psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and ketamine and their current and projected medical and therapeutic presence in Canada.
- Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic compound that gives “magic mushrooms” their name. Medically, psilocybin is researched for its ability to kick addictions, treat depression, and reduce end-of-life anxiety. Psilocybin is not currently recognized by Health Canada to have any medical benefits.
- Ketamine is known for its dissociative effects, used in hospitals, clinics, and even once in a war, to pull people out of their pain. It, too, is being researched for its mental health benefits, and is often cited as the last resort, yet most effective treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts. Despite the studies, research, and calls for exemptions to use and prescribe other psychedelics, ketamine is the only medically recognized and prescribable psychedelic in Canada.
Medical experts and researchers are interested in psychedelic substances like psilocybin and ketamine for their potential impact on pain and mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. You can read about the various benefits, effects, risks, and even how to administer psilocybin and ketamine on Health Canada’s website.
Canada’s psychedelic history
Once upon a time, psychedelics showed a lot of spiritual, therapeutic, and medical potential. Insights into magic mushrooms and other psychedelics weren’t just happening where Timothy Leary, the beats, and the Haight-Ashbury hippies were. They were being researched all over the world: in Sweden, resulting in the discovery of LSD, and in Saskatchewan, as early as the 1940s. In fact, the word “psychedelic” was coined by Saskatchewan-based psychiatrist, Humphry Osmond, in 1957. And, of course, let’s not forget the timeless psychedelic spiritual and ceremonial traditions in cultures around the world.
For context, psychedelics, especially LSD, offered 1950s Western psychiatry an optimistic alternative to pill-popping dependency, years of therapy, long-term care in asylums, electroshock therapy, solitary confinement, and lobotomies. Aside from being inhumane, expensive, inefficient, and grossly ineffective, these methods also plagued mental illnesses with stigmas we still hold today.
So, the interest in psychedelic solutions was both economic and medically necessary for mental health care. This notion of progress fits well in today’s intersectional focus on mental well-being, efficiency, and cost.
Humphrey Osmond left Britain for Saskatchewan in 1951 as part of Premier Tommy Douglas’ medical experimental reformation. He began LSD and mescaline tests at Weyburn Mental Hospital in an attempt to model and understand schizophrenia and offer alcoholics reflection into their addictions before hitting “rock-bottom.” Osmond and Regina-based psychiatrist and biochemist, Abram Hoffer, became collaborators in a mission “to improve mental health and support provincial health-care reforms.” Their research into LSD eventually caught the attention of the CIA, and that’s a whole other story.
Stigmas, abuse, and shutdown
While psychedelics grew in popularity, so did abuse and stigmas, with research only in its infancy. Stigmas and fears about inflated risks began fueling a radical opposition aversion to psychedelics, as well as the “counterculture,” “hippies,” or “free spirits.” At the height of the controversy, The United Nations Economic and Social Council (1968) denounced psychedelics, as “an increasingly serious problem that could have very dangerous consequences” and proposed stronger restrictions.
Imagine the frustration of scientists and researchers, forced to abandon their work regarding psychedelics.
3 factors driving psychedelic interest in Canada
Despite stringent regulations around the legality, use, prescription, and provision of psychedelic drugs, the resurgence of psychedelics among Canada’s medical professionals, researchers, organizations, and public interest is gaining mainstream attention. This resurgence is due to a number of different factors:
1. The global mental health crisis
Mental health care has become a necessary focus in our modern lifestyle. You could argue that it always has been, but society doesn’t have the same ignorance and stigmas around mental health today that it once did. We’re more equipped than ever to optimize mental health solutions. With so many people suffering from treatment-resistant illnesses, we can rely on innovation, as much as traditional spiritual remedies, to provide better care.
2. The recent success of the cannabis industry
The social and legal evolution of cannabis proves things can change. In terms of our current regulatory landscape for psychedelics use, we have to thank the cannabis industry for the optimism in the potential changes to regulations, such as exemptions.
Talk about a “gateway drug.”
3. The revival of historic psychedelic studies
While promising, cannabis’ success shouldn’t cloud or belittle the work of psychedelic researchers. Remember, these studies are not new. Research into the medical potential of psychedelics has been going on for-basically-ever. We’re experiencing the Psychedelic Renaissance, a revival of the psychedelic uprising and revisiting of research that was paused, criminalized, buried, and forgotten in North America.
Psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are classed as schedule III controlled substances under the CDSA. Schedules are based on danger, risk, or potential for abuse, starting at schedule I, which includes MDMA and ketamine.
The regulations around psychedelics in Canada are many, but there are opportunities for exemptions fueling hope in the research world. In terms of therapeutics, there are some exemption loopholes in the name of research.
A recent exemption is allowing approved applicants with terminal illnesses to have psilocybin administered. Another exemption is allowing approved scientists, therapists, physicians, psychiatrists, and pharmacists to use certain controlled substances on themselves in order to understand the effects (like Osmond and Hoffer did); however, they cannot prescribe the drug to others. In an interview with CBC, physician Dr. Sean O’Sullivan says, “it's important for doctors who could eventually prescribe psychedelics to be well versed in their effects.”
Much like during the reforms in 1940s Saskatchewan, which pulled intellectuals from throughout North America to the province to observe the societal impact, psychedelics are propelling big changes.
In this constantly evolving landscape, we’ll likely see psilocybin, ketamine, and ibogaine in research, human trials, and alongside psychotherapy very soon, treating pain caused by addictions, depression, PTSD, and anxiety. In the meantime, MINDCURE continues in its mission to promote mental health through digital therapeutics, offerings, and psychedelic therapy.
Thanks for “tuning in.” Sorry, no party favors.