Breakthrough for Medical Psilocybin: Court Overturns Health Canada Decision

Federal Court Deems Health Canada’s Decision “Unreasonable” and “Lacking Intelligibility”

Ottawa, Ontario, May 24, 2024 – TheraPsil, a non-profit coalition dedicated to helping Canadians in medical need access legal psychedelic therapy, is celebrating a significant landmark decision by the Federal Court of Canada. The decision favours Dr. William Jeptha Davenport and his patient, Mr. Jody Lance, granting judicial review of Health Canada’s refusal to approve their Special Access Program (SAP) request for psilocybin to treat Mr. Lance’s debilitating cluster headaches. 

Case Overview

Mr. Lance, who suffers from cluster headaches, often referred to as “suicide headaches” due to their extreme pain, has experienced significant relief through the medical use of psilocybin. Despite numerous failed attempts with conventional treatments, psilocybin in non-hallucinogenic doses has enabled Mr. Lance to manage his condition effectively, allowing him to regain some quality of life.

In July 2023, TheraPsil and lawyer Nicholas Pope supported Dr. Davenport, a neurologist practicing in Calgary, Alberta, in submitting a Special Access Program request to Health Canada on behalf of Mr. Lance. This application was supported by extensive medical documentation and legal submissions asserting Mr. Lance’s rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the request was denied on the grounds that the medical efficacy of psilocybin for cluster headaches had not been sufficiently established, and alternative treatments had not been exhausted. 

Court’s Findings

The Honourable Mr. Justice Fothergill found Health Canada’s refusal unreasonable, primarily due to the failure to adequately address the key issues and arguments presented by the applicants, and for not considering Mr. Lance’s Charter Rights. The Court noted the following points:

  • Failure to Consider Charter Rights: The Minister’s delegate did not address the arguments regarding Mr. Lance’s rights to life, liberty, and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter. The Court emphasized that these rights were directly raised and should have been meaningfully considered​​.
  • Medical Evidence: The Court acknowledged that while broad clinical evidence on psilocybin’s efficacy for treating cluster headaches is limited, Mr. Lance’s positive response to the treatment, and the supporting medical opinions provided by Dr. Davenport and other professionals, were significant. The Court highlighted that denying access based on the lack of clinical trials was unreasonable, especially given the personal and anecdotal evidence supporting its efficacy for Mr. Lance​​.
  • Alternative Treatments: The refusal also cited the availability of alternative treatments, which Dr. Davenport had deemed either ineffective or unsuitable due to severe side effects, high costs, or impracticality. The Court found that the refusal did not adequately consider these factors, making the decision unreasonable in light of Mr. Lance’s immediate need for effective relief​​.

Remedy and Impact

The Court has ordered that the matter be remitted to a different delegate of the Minister of Health for redetermination, with instructions to meaningfully consider the Charter arguments and the specific circumstances of Mr. Lance’s case. This decision sets a precedent for how SAP requests involving controlled substances and serious medical conditions should be handled moving forward, particularly when Charter rights are invoked.

“The Special Access Program has consistently ignored any and all Charter arguments made by doctors and patients, simply pretending they do not exist. This decision should put an end to that. It’s a first step forward for medical psilocybin, but not the last,” said Nicholas Pope, Lawyer, Hameed Law.

TheraPsil, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Lance hope this decision will pave the way for others in similar situations to receive the treatments they desperately need.TheraPsil is encouraging any other Canadians suffering from cluster headaches who are seeking legal access to psilocybin-assisted treatment to reach out for support with their Special Access Program application. 

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