Over 100 medical professionals challenge rejection of psilocybin access

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Shannon McKenney had a severe migraine for about 1,500 consecutive days.

“I have trouble sleeping and I have trouble staying asleep,” the Burnaby, B.C. musician said in a recent phone conversation.
interview while dealing with the same persistent headache that is often accompanied by dizziness and exhaustion.

“In April 2011, my appendix also ruptured, and that changed my life. I survived sepsis four times.

“I used to live my life with tons of energy and now I’m like an old cell phone that doesn’t work properly and doesn’t charge properly.”

McKenney’s story is one of many included in a judicial review application filed Monday in Federal Court on behalf of more than 100 healthcare professionals across the country, including doctors, psychologists, clinical counselors , social workers and nurses. They are challenging the federal health minister’s decision last month to deny their request for restricted use of psychedelic drugs to train in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.

Psilocybin can be extracted from psychedelic mushrooms and then made into a pill. (Camille Vernet/Radio Canada)

This therapy involves ingesting mind-altering substances like psilocybin, an active ingredient in magic mushrooms, in a clinical setting as part of more traditional psychotherapy. Other drugs could include ketamine, LSD, or MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy.

The federal government had signaled earlier this year that it would deny the requests, said Nicholas Pope, an attorney representing TheraPsil, an advocacy group that runs the training program in which health practitioners are enrolled.

Pope said at the time that the only reason given was that these professionals could access an existing clinical trial instead. Then, in June, when the request was officially denied, Ottawa suggested they could hold their own trial.

“So in our submissions we said it wouldn’t work for a number of reasons,” Pope said.

One of the main ones is that existing trials are expensive and don’t work for many of the professionals he represents due to timing and location.

“You can’t just run the clinical trial in a few days,” Pope said.

“Many patients on waiting lists have suicidal ideation because of their depression and many of them suffer from end-of-life distress, have terminal cancer and could die soon.”

McKenney said she tried to join an existing trial as a patient, but it also cost her too much.

“Being on disability, I can’t afford $6,000 for three cycles of therapy,” she said.

Pope said some professionals are also unwilling to participate in existing trials because they are for psilocybin research.

“It can interfere with training because the main purpose of a clinical trial is not training, it is information gathering. And there is no uncertainty in the expert community about the Safety of Psilocybin in Healthy Adults.”

Not enough professionals to use the treatment

In 2020, Health Canada began granting exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide psychedelic treatment to patients with end-of-life psychological distress, treatment-resistant depression, and major depressive disorder.

Documents submitted to the court show that hundreds of Canadians inquire about it each year, but Pope said there were not enough professionals in Canada to provide the treatment. Some have requested the substances to treat their anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses.

“In Manitoba, there are no fully trained and qualified health care practitioners, but there are 10 patients on the TheraPsil waiting list,” reads a summary of the request.

“Two health care practitioners in Manitoba have applied for exemptions. If these two exemptions are approved, patients who do not otherwise have qualified health care practitioners within thousands of miles would be able to access therapy-assisted psychotherapy. psilocybin.”

McKenney said if she wanted to, she could get the drugs from other channels. But she is reluctant because she suffers from a mental illness.

“If I were to overdo it or have a bad trip, sometimes there’s no going back. If I’m going to do it, I want to regulate it and I want it monitored just for safety reasons.”

Pope said in the judicial review application that he also wants the federal government to recognize that patients’ rights to life, liberty and security are being infringed.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said in an email that it is deeply concerned about the burden of mental illness on Canadians.

“Health Canada is aware that psilocybin is being studied by researchers in Canada and abroad for its potential to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and various mental disorders. substance use,” said Marie-Pier Burelle.

“Each exemption request…is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of benefit and potential risk or harm to Canadians.”

McKenney said if more professionals were trained and she had easier access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, her life would change.

“I’ve been relatively disabled for 10 years. If I can get even a tenth of my old life back, that would be something.”

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