August 4th, 2020 – Over 100 days after they first contacted the Health Minister of Canada–The Honourable Patty Hadju–four terminal cancer patients have been granted permission to use psilocybin therapy as a treatment for end-of-life stress and anxiety.
After nearly five decades of prohibition, these four individuals are the first publicly-known recipients of a legal exemption to access psychedelic therapy in Canada. The process that bore this historic fruit is known as a Section 56 (1) application, shepherded by the Canadian non-profit TheraPsil.
From the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:
56 (1) The Minister may, on any terms and conditions that the Minister considers necessary, exempt from the application of all or any of the provisions of this Act or the regulations any person or class of persons or any controlled substance or precursor or any class of either of them if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.
Compassionate Psychedelic Therapy
When patients receive a terminal diagnosis, there is little left to do other than optimize the quality of life and mitigate suffering. These are the core tenets of palliative care and should guide all decisions concerning those in need.
For many, suffering takes on many forms: physical, emotional, spiritual. While modern medicine has focused on the mitigation of physical suffering; centuries-old aboriginal practices have demonstrated unsurpassed strength in filling the gaps where other therapies fail. Psilocybin and other psychedelic medicines are one of the few known tools that can significantly reduce end-of-life distress.
Like medical assistance in dying (MAID), offered to certain eligible Canadians since 2016, the federal government has expressed its understanding that mentally competent adults are capable of making health decisions for themselves. When no options remain, Canada is beginning to demonstrate their trust in terminal patients to make appropriate medical choices without restriction. #RightToTry
Exempted by Health Minister Patty Hadju
This is not The Honourable Patty Hadju’s first foray into drug policy and harm prevention. From her Liberal Party bio:
“Hajdu worked mainly in the field of harm prevention, homelessness, and substance misuse prevention, including nine years as the head of the drug awareness committee of the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.”
Thankfully, this appears to have instilled the compassion to assist at least four terminal Canadians with their search for comfort from end-of-life distress. By all appearances, these are unlikely to be the last exemptions we see coming from the Office of Controlled Substances; these causes may finally–rightfully–be seen as a simple bureaucratic gesture that has the capacity to relieve unimaginable suffering.