Since August 4th 2020, 39 patients and 19 healthcare professionals supported by TheraPsil, a Canadian non-profit patient rights advocacy group, have been granted subsection 56(1) exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to legally possess and consume psilocybin for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in Canada. However, the exemption process is slow, resource-intensive, and arbitrary, infringing upon patients’ section 7 Charter rights, and ultimately putting individual healthcare decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats.
One year after the precedent-setting approval of the first 4 medical psilocybin exemptions in Canada were approved, TheraPsil submitted a 171-page proposed draft of regulations for the medical legalization of psilocybin in Canada to the Federal Health Minister and Health Canada. These regulations, based on the Cannabis Regulations, which in turn were based on the 2016 medical cannabis regulations under the CDSA, the ACMPR, are similarly called the Access to Psilocybin for Medical Purposes Regulations (APMPR). Medical psilocybin regulations would allow patients to access psilocybin for use in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy or for other purposes with the approval of their healthcare provider, not through the current system of ad-hoc exemptions granted by the Federal Minister of Health on a case-by-case basis.
Over 19 other patients and 76 healthcare professionals, supported by TheraPsil, have submitted subsection 56(1) exemption applications to the Minister of Health. Thousands of other patients have contacted TheraPsil for support in accessing psilocybin therapy for various health conditions including treatment-resistant depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cluster headaches, and substance use disorders.
Nathan Kruljac, a patient in remission from cancer, suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, submitted an application to access psilocybin for use in support of psychotherapy on March 11th, 2021. Despite several other Canadians in remission from cancer receiving exemptions to possess and consume psilocybin over the past year, Nathan has been waiting over 230 days for a response from the Federal Health Minister, now the newly appointed Jean-Yves Duclos. Nathan’s lawyer, Nicholas Pope, is now engaged in legal proceedings to help Nathan receive a subsection 56(1) exemption, which so far has included submission of a mandamus application and cross-examination of a senior Health Canada official.
Nicholas Pope had this to say:
“Section 7 and the principles of fundamental justice impose a duty on the Minister with respect to subsection 56(1) exemption requests. When a person requests an exemption to possess and consume psilocybin for medical reasons, the Minister must assess and decide the exemption request, and must approve the request if the evidence indicates the treatment will improve the person’s health, and there is little or no evidence that the exemption would have a negative impact on public safety.”
Nathan Kruljac had this to say:
“The Federal Health Minister and the Prime Minister abandoned us during the election. I have had to turn to the courts for help in accessing my medicine. The election has caused a great deal of suffering for me and others who waited over 200 days to hear back about our urgent need for medical access to psilocybin. Some patients waiting alongside me have died waiting. Federal Health Minister Jean Yves Duclos I implore you to make it a top priority to respond with urgency and compassion to all of us with outstanding exemption applications so that me, and the other patients, can access our medicine.”
If the Federal Health Minister does not grant Nathan’s exemption or commit to the enactment of regulations by the end of 2021, patients and healthcare professionals, supported by TheraPsil will be forced to launch a Charter Challenge, similar to R v Parker which ultimately led to Canada’s first medical cannabis regulations, the The Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), in 2001.
“Since August of 2020 Health Canada has been facilitating ad-hoc subsection 56(1) exemptions authorizing possession and consumption of psilocybin for patients and healthcare professionals. Slow processing times on subsection 56(1) applications have denied patients timely and safe access to psilocybin mushrooms and synthetic psilocybin, and has also seemingly discriminated against patients based on their mental and physical disabilities - granting some patients access in a matter of days, and leaving other patients to wait for a response for months. This is a direct violation of our Charter rights and needs to end. Hundreds of Canadians are in urgent need of medical psilocybin and the only way forward is regulations that would ensure patients have safe, equal, transparent, predictable and compassionate access to medical psilocybin through consultation with their healthcare provider, not a politician. We look forward to working with and call upon our new Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, Dr. Carolyn Bennett, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to respond to patient’s subsection 56(1) exemptions and our proposed ‘Access to Psilocybin for Medical Purposes Regulations’ as a top priority." - Spencer Hawkswell, CEO, TheraPsil
As Canada’s healthcare system continues to inadequately address the needs of patients suffering from illness-related distress, anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, cluster headaches, and more, alternative treatment options like psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy are increasingly being accepted by the public. A recent public opinion poll commissioned by TheraPsil from YouGov indicated that 66% of Canadians support changing regulations to make psilocybin medically available in Canada.
To support Canadian patients in medical need of psilocybin, TheraPsil, a BC-based non-profit advocacy group will dedicate the remainder of 2021 to their largest advocacy campaign to date: the push for medical psilocybin regulations to legalize therapeutic psilocybin in Canada.
Individuals and organizations who would like to join the fight are encouraged to visit TheraPsil.ca for more information on how to get involved.
TheraPsil is a non-profit patient-advocacy coalition that advocates for legal, medical access to psilocybin and psilocybin therapy for Canadians in medical need. TheraPsil began its work helping patients apply for section 56 exemptions, granted by the Minister of Health, and is now also advocating for regulatory change to legalize psilocybin for medical purposes.
Individuals experiencing end-of-life or illness-related distress are invited to confidentially contact TheraPsil on the TheraPsil website.
Holly Bennett, Director of Communications, holly @ therapsil.ca
All other inquiries:
Spencer Hawkswell, CEO, spencer @ therapsil.ca