Canadians LEGALLY Using Psilocybin: A Big Step Forward

On August 4, 2020, Canada’s federal Minister of Health, Patty Hadju, granted four Canadians medical exemptions for the legal use of psilocybin. Psilocybin is the psychoactive substance that is found in over 100 species of mushrooms, commonly referred to as "magic mushrooms".

Specifically, these four terminal cancer patients were granted legal access to psilocybin to help to ease their end-of-life distress.
 
Some readers may shrug their shoulders at this news.

Four Canadians? Big deal.

Actually, it is a big deal.

First legal access to psilocybin in Canada since 1970s

All movements have to begin somewhere. For the first time in nearly half a century, Canadians have been legally permitted to use psilocybin – for medicinal purposes.

Given the duration and severity of the criminal Prohibition on psilocybin use, it was inevitable that the first legal exemption for the medicinal use of psilocybin would be very narrow.

In placing this news into proper context, there is an obvious parallel. Cannabis legalization.

Cannabis was also strictly prohibited for several decades as part of the now-discredited “War on Drugs”. Starting in the 1990’s in the U.S. and the year 2000 in Canada, cannabis Prohibition has been completely rescinded in Canada and is being gradually phased-out in the United States.

Like psilocybin, cannabis is seen as having many potent medicinal uses (backed up by growing bodies of empirical evidence).

However, already we are seeing one significant difference in the path to legalization for psilocybin.

In both the U.S. and Canada, it was successful court challenges that forced governments to provide legal access to medicinal cannabis.  At the state level in the U.S. and federally in Canada, it was ruled “unconstitutional” to deny people access to the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

In the case of psilocybin, no court challenge is involved here. Rather, this is the result of a successful petition to Canada’s Minister of Health – who has voluntarily granted access to the medicinal use of psilocybin.

This is the real significance of this announcement. Not the number of Canadians being permitted legal access.

It is the fact that the government of Canada has agreed to allow legal use of psilocybin (for medicinal purposes) that is the big news here. No judicial arm-twisting was involved.

The cancer patients were supported in their application to the Minister of Health by TheraPsil. TheraPsil is “a non-profit coalition that advocates for legal, compassionate access to psilocybin therapy.”

In announcing these medical exemptions, TheraPsil has stated that it “looks forward to continuing to support patient applications” for additional medical exemptions for Canadians.

What does this mean for psychedelic drug legalization?
What does this mean for the psychedelic drug industry?

A faster road to decriminalization/legalization of psychedelics

Court challenges can be a very effective strategy for pursuing significant legislative changes.

A successful challenge is an official decree by the court that there is a need for legislative change. And these rulings create legal precedents that are binding on lower or parallel courts.

But court challenges are generally time-consuming (and expensive). And it’s a cumbersome process for actually producing new laws.

It took more than a decade (in both the United States and Canada) for original successes in court to translate into actual decriminalization or legalization of cannabis.

The successful petition to Canada’s Health Minister for a legal exemption for psilocybin use was an administrative process – not a legal one.

The news release by TheraPsil noted that it took Minister Hajdu “over 100 days” to respond to the petition. This was obviously frustrating for the terminal cancer patients seeking this order. However, had they been forced to rely upon the court process, it could have easily taken longer than that just to get a final hearing scheduled.

Administrative petitions are a more expedient process for producing changes in the law – even if these orders don’t carry the weight of a legal precedent.

Canada’s voluntary move to loosen restrictions on psilocybin use is a very positive sign for not just the legalization and commercialization of psilocybin, but other psychedelic drugs as well.

A more certain path to commercialization for the psychedelic drug industry


As previously noted, cannabis legalization was forced upon the governments of the U.S. and Canada (to varying degrees) via the courts.

Anti-cannabis phobias and political resistance has remained. This is especially true at the federal level in the United States. Consequently, the commercialization of cannabis continues to run into political and regulatory roadblocks.

Conversely, with psychedelic drugs we are seeing greater signs of political cooperation.

U.S. cities and states are moving toward decriminalization of psilocybin without judicial pressure. And here we see Canada’s federal government granting a medical exemption for the use of a psychedelic drug.

Coupled with the enormous need for the (potential) medicinal benefits offered by psychedelic drugs, this could mean a faster/smoother road to commercialization than we have seen with cannabis.

Today, the psychedelic drug industry is still in its infancy. But greater receptiveness towards psychedelic drugs at the political level bodes well for the future.
 
psilocybin mushrooms (cover) by Microgen is licensed under Adobe Stock
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