A recent study demonstrating that psilocybin treatments alongside psychological services provide “a clinically significant reduction” in symptoms of major depressive disorder “without serious adverse events” is the latest in a growing body of research demonstrating the psychiatric benefits of the drug.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in “magic mushrooms.” The drug has been used medicinally and in spiritual practices for centuries, particularly among Indigenous cultures in Central America and Mexico. However, the sale, possession and production of psilocybin in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act unless authorized by Health Canada. To date, nearly a dozen studies have been granted exemptions to legally distribute psilocybin in clinical trials and through the Special Access Program.
Progressive policies governing the psychedelic substance are on the rise internationally. In 2020, the State of Oregon legalized psilocybin healing centres. By the end of this year, it will be legal for Oregonians over age 21 to receive psychedelic-assisted therapy. Demand for the treatment has been significant with the first licensed psilocybin centre reporting a waitlist of 3,000 people.
Around the world, a handful of other countries have, directly or indirectly, made psilocybin legal. In the Netherlands, though psilocybin mushrooms are still illegal, due to a legal loophole psilocybin truffles are not. In this case, the “truffles” refer to a part of the mushroom that grows underground and retains the same psychoactive properties as the mushroom cap.
Countries like Jamaica, the Bahamas and Brazil have all either made psilocybin legal or did not criminalize the substance in the first place. In Canada, though the psilocybin is still illegal, a growing number of magic mushroom dispensaries have popped up across the country over recent years. Although whether to lay criminal charges on the owners of these dispensaries is still up to the discretion of local police, in many urban areas these raids largely have been deprioritized. This has further fuelled discussions about whether the drug policy framework for psilocybin and other psychedelics should change.
Many have advocated for decriminalizing psilocybin or legalizing it for medical purposes alone. Others have advocated for its full legalization and regulation, espousing a similar model used in the legalization of cannabis in 2018.
With an eye to the promising medical advances in psychedelic-assisted therapies, as well as the growing ubiquity of magic mushroom dispensaries across the country, we asked a panel of experts if Canada should move toward legalizing and regulating psilocybin.