Local therapists say Ottawa’s move allowing physicians to prescribe psychedelics is a “seismic shift” towards legalizing their medicinal use.

Health Canada’s change to federal regulations through what’s known as the Special Access Program makes restricted drugs psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, and MDMA more realistic alternatives to patients suffering life-threatening mental illnesses whose treatments aren’t working, say therapists who are using them in their practises.

“It’s a seismic shift in the level of legalization in Canada…. They’ve been shifted from an illegal drug to a prescribable medicine,” said David Harder, who operates the ATMA Calgary Urban Journey Centre.

Previously, those drugs were used under an exemption granted by Health Canada for individual palliative cases.

The department’s amendment “opens it up beyond palliative care,” said Harder.

Even so, he said physicians’ prescriptions will still need to be made in a controlled, individualized fashion.

“We’re doing our research to see what it does for our group,” said Harder, whose practice has treated about a dozen palliative care clients over the past year.

And he said the changes have nothing in common with Canada’s 2018 legalization of recreational cannabis.

But he said the steady liberalization of the medical use of once-scorned psychedelics is undeniable — and seemingly unstoppable.

Dr. Robert Tanguay, who operates Calgary’s Newly Institute that employs psychedelics in treating mental disorders, agrees.

“(Health Canada) sees the data and how it clearly shows it’s improving and enhancing people’s mental health,” he said.

“It’s a movement to legalization, which is fantastic…. If there’s ever been a more exciting time in psychotherapy, it was decades ago.”

Health Canada’s amendment “takes it out of the hands of regulators and into the hands of physicians who have the best interests of patients.”

But he said the new system remains on a “case-by-case application basis, which is frustrating.”

Psychedelics like psilocybin dismantle psychological barriers erected by patients suffering from conditions like PTSD or depression, said Tanguay.

“They have pretty powerful properties similar to an anti-depressant medication. They break down the ego, enabling you to step back and see what’s going on.”

But he said they can’t be used alone and must be teamed with more conventional supervised therapy.

Currently, he said, the Newly Institute treats about 35 clients a month, including first-responders, many of them under a treatment regime involving fully legal psychedelic ketamine.

And he said he’s looking forward to pushing the boundaries of psychedelic therapy by employing substances like LSD and ayahuasca, a vine with hallucinogenic properties from the Amazon region.

The CEO of a U.S.-based telemedicine clinic that uses ketamine in its treatments said he hopes Ottawa’s move inspires a similar mindset stateside.

“This breakthrough decision will expand access to MDMA and psilocybin therapy and help save the lives of those with life-threatening mental health conditions,” Dr. John Huber of the Tripsitter Clinic said in a statement.

“We hope Canada’s success pushes the U.S. government to follow a similar pathway while awaiting FDA approval for MDMA and psilocybin.”

Meanwhile, Harder’s clinic is embarking on its first clinical trial after being granted a so-called no-objection letter by Health Canada to proceed.

The exercise will test the safety of synthetic psychedelics by having therapists ingest them in the company of two colleagues on sessions lasting up to six hours, which will also provide hands-on training, said Harder.

“They’re getting training; it’s experiential in what it’s like to take the medicine,” he said.

Medical authorities, he said, “still don’t feel there’s a baseline safety standard for psilocybin in Canada, but I feel very confident those medicines are safe. They’ve been proven over and over through centuries.”

For now, ATMA sources its psilocybin from a U.S. producer, but Harder said he’s hoping to tap Canadian and even Albertan growers who are beginning to set up shop in the province.

Both Harder and Tanguay say they expect their operations to grow dramatically in the coming years, with the Newly Institute planning locations in at least four other Canadian cities.

Read more at: calgaryherald.com