Canadian Patients Sue Federal Government for Psilocybin Therapy Access

Psilocybin-assisted therapy has recently emerged as a potential treatment for certain mental health disorders amid a global surge in psychedelic research. Research has found that psilocybin, the main hallucinogenic agent in magic mushrooms, may be able to alleviate the effects of anxiety and depression as well as treat alcohol and nicotine-use dependence.

However, most countries have classified psilocybin and most other psychedelic drugs as controlled substances with no accepted medical use. This has made it nigh impossible for mental health patients to access psilocybin without having to take part in clinical trials or shell out thousands of dollars to travel to regions that allow psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Patients in Canada are now taking legal action to compel the government to expand access to psilocybin therapy. A group of patients suffering from health issues such as depression, cancer and cluster headaches teamed up with one physician to sue the Canadian federal government. Their suit claimed that Section 7 of the Canadian constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives them a constitutional right to access therapeutic psilocybin.

If the ongoing case is successful, Canada may be forced to launch a national legal program for psilocybin-assisted therapy similar to the program in Oregon.

Oregon was the first American state to legalize the use of magic mushrooms and currently allows adults older than 21 years of age to consume psilocybin in guided sessions at licensed service centers.

Advocates in Canada have been fighting to expand psilocybin access for years. Lobbying efforts by TheraPsil, a British Columbia-based nonprofit, resulted in Health Canada issuing several s56 exemption requests in 2020. Although these exemptions allowed individuals to access magic mushrooms without having to go through clinical trials, there was no standard procedure to apply for them, and the Minister of Health was essentially responsible for granting, denying or ignoring s56 exemption requests from patients.

In January 2022, Health Canada made amendments to Special Access Program (SAP) regulations to create a standard procedure to apply for s56 exemption requests.  Patients would have their doctors fill out a Health Canada form and submit it to health regulators for approval. To qualify for an exemption, patients would have to be afflicted with a life-threatening condition that had failed to respond to conventional means of treatment.

The current lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs who had their s56 or SAP applications denied even when they were seeking to have previous approvals renewed. They then filed the suit alongside TheraPsil to get the federal government to expand psilocybin therapy access to qualifying patients.

The suit would precipitate significant change in Canada if it is successful and would likely lead to the formation of a massive psychedelic-assisted treatment industry.

The entities such as Field Trip Health Ltd. (OTC: FTHWF) (TSX: FTHW) that have an interest in the Canadian market will probably be following this case closely.

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