She was nervous and more than a bit skeptical. Little was known about the experimental treatment that has only recently been made available to patients in Canada with terminal illnesses. But White, who was dying of Stage 4 cancer, was adamant. He was so doped up on pharmaceuticals (including fentanyl, oxycontin, hydromorphine and medicinal cannabis) that his quality of life was non-existent. Even with all the drugs, he could still barely walk.
Currently, Health Canada has only approved psilocybin treatment for people in palliative care. However, a growing number of private companies (startups such as Numinus Wellness, Doseo log y Sciences and H AV N Life Sciences, all in British Columbia) and academic institutions( the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia) are trying to convince government regulators that more money and time should be invested in researching how psi lo cy bin-assisted psychotherapy might be used to unlock some of the mysteries of the human brain.
Dr. Evan Wood, chief medical officer at Numinus on Vancouver Island, says the societal costs of mental illness, addiction and trauma are much too high to ignore the potential breakthroughs that might be possible with psychedelic treatments. “With one in five Canadians currently grappling with debilitating mental-health conditions, we can’t afford not to look at psilocybin seriously,” Wood says, adding that mental illness is projected to cost the global economy US$16-trillion by 2030, according to a recent Lancet Commission report. At Numinus, where they extract psychoactive compounds from plants and fungi, Wood says they are working toward a psilocybin-assisted therapy trial for patients with substance-abuse disorders, as well as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
“A session with psilocybin seems to disrupt this network, reset it and decrease its activity, thus alleviating the symptoms. The changes it appears to be bringing about with people are really profound. It gets at the root of what’s driving people to these mental disorders. Instead of giving them chemicals that numb those feelings, these treatments help you put that trauma behind you.”
Dr. David Mokler, professor emeritus of pharmacology at the University of New England and an adviser to HAVN Life, says public demand for plant-based medicines is the catalyst driving some governments to slowly start lifting restrictions on psilocybinbased treatments.
He warns that people need to be cautious. “Phase 3 trials are under way, but until we have blind proof of efficacy, I would not recommend these treatments to my patients,” Blier says. “The danger is that people hear about these treatments and go buy mushrooms from illicit sources. Some mushrooms are toxic and I fear for their safety.”
White died 19 days after his appointment on Jan. 20, 2021, at the age of 46. However, the quality of life he enjoyed in his final days was a gift that Crewe believes all palliative patients should have access to.
“To me this alternative treatment should be treated the same as medically assisted dying. It should be made available to anyone who wants it.”