If you had terminal cancer and the one thing that would help your mental health during that time was illegal, would you fight for your right to have it? Until now, mushroom therapy for terminally ill cancer patients has been illegal. These four patients in Canada campaigned for their rights to use the drug, and now they will finally be able to.
Mushroom Therapy Made Legal for Four Terminal Cancer Patients
Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, have been illegal in Canada since 1974. (1) This prohibition did not allow for scientific study or medicinal use, however a recent exception has been made. On August 4th, 2020, however, Health Minister Patty Hajdu made the historic decision to allow four cancer patients in end-of-life care to have and use the drug as part of psychotherapy treatment. (1)
The decision came after four cancer patients, with the help of non-profit organization TheraPsil, fought for the right to use the substance to help ease their mental and emotional stress during the end stage of their lives. (1)
One of the patients, Thomas Hartle, is thankful for the compassion shown by the health minister.
“This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion. I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing,” (1)
It took 100 days from their initial plea to the government for them to make the decision to allow each patient to use mushroom therapy in this way. Laurie Brooks, another one of the four patients, says she hopes this is the first step towards legalizing the medical use of magic mushrooms for the terminally ill in Canada. (2, 3)
“The acknowledgment of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result,” she said. “I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission.” (2)
The Effects of Mushroom Therapy
For the terminally ill, knowing that you are going to die soon is a terrible burden to bear. Patients experience extreme anxiety and grief over both the loss of their own future and the impact it will have on their loved ones. Mushroom Therapy helps them manage that stress. (2, 3)
Brooks completed her first psychedelic trip last October under the guidance of her therapist. The six-hour trip was challenging, but ultimately she found it extremely helpful. (3)
“…immediately afterwards I was able to see my cancer in a box beside me on the floor instead of this black cloud hanging over me all the time,” (3)
Waves of Emotion
She warns that the first portion of her trip involved intense waves of grief that she had to confront before she could get to the more healing part of the experience. This was, of course, extremely difficult. (3)
To Brook’s surprise, however, she has been able to keep her cancer in that “box” over the last ten months of treatment just after one trip. She’s doing so well with it, in fact, she’s not sure if she will even need to do another one. Her fight for permission to use it is more about other patients than it is about her. (3)
“Hopefully this allows other people to get that exemption faster, and hopefully it’s the start of something really great where therapists can use it with their clients,” (3)
The Research on Mushroom Therapy
Earlier this year, NYU Langone Health researchers published a study on the effectiveness of mushroom therapy (4). For the study, 29 patients experiencing cancer-related anxiety and depression were given a single dose psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, in combination with psychotherapy. The study found that (2,4):
- 60%-80% showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and existential distress.
- Improved attitudes towards death.
- Long-term improvements 3 to 5 years later.
- 70% of those patients attributed positive life changes to the experience
While more research needs to be done, this is compelling evidence to support Brook’s own experience.
Permission Does Not Equal Legalization
Just because these four people have been given the right to possess and use the drug in this specific situation, does not mean that the drug is now okay for everyone to use. Magic Mushrooms remain an illegal drug in Canada. (1)
In an email to website Marijuana Moment, a government spokesperson made that quite clear.
“Health Canada is committed to carefully and thoroughly reviewing each request for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of potential benefits and risks or harms to the health and safety of Canadians…These exemptions do not change the fact that the sale and possession of magic mushrooms remain illegal in Canada.” (1)
Using magic mushrooms, especially if one experiences a “bad trip”, still comes with a variety of potential side effects, including:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure (1)
- Flashbacks and bad trips that can lead to risk-taking behavior (1)
- Traumatic injuries (1)
- Hallucinations and extreme paranoia (3)
- Death (1)
As with any illegal drugs, quality control is an issue. This means consumers may ingest something that is contaminated, leading to potentially severe side effects.
More Research into Psychedelic Treatments
In recent years, considerable funding has gone to research at a handful of universities in the United States to investigate the efficacy of using psychedelic drugs to treat different illnesses. Studies are being done for opioid addiction, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety. (1)
In some states, the possession of certain psychedelics has already been decriminalized. Denver, Colorado, and Oakland, California have already passed such laws. Changes to the laws in other states are being discussed as well. (1)
As research continues to be done, hopefully, mushroom therapy and other treatments will be accessible and helpful for patients all over the world in the future.
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