Calgary is on the cusp of something big when it comes to ‘magic mushrooms’ being used as therapy
The use of magic mushrooms, containing hallucinogens such as psilocybin and psilocin, is becoming more and more popular in psychedelic-assisted therapy, particularly for cancer patients.
But according to Health Canada, the production, sale and possession of magic mushrooms are illegal in Canada and under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, their use in therapy must be approved under Health Canada’s Special Access Program, which practitioners like David Harder, founder and Co-CEO of ATMA in Calgary, are hoping will change.
Harder said there is ever-increasing evidence that has come out of the extensive research and clinical trials in North America about the benefits of using ‘magic mushrooms’ in the mental health betterment and growth of patients, particularly those in palliative care.
Using magic mushrooms as treatment
Harder says about 20 clients have gone through the process of using magic mushrooms in therapy.
“It’s been very individual. Health Canada said right from the get-go that this is not a tool where anybody can access psychedelics,” he explains.
“It’s just for very specific individuals, which are people that are in palliative care within months, not years, of whatever prognosis they have with very specific guidelines as to how it can be used.”
Harder says his company has been following the regulations to the letter so that they continue to get applications approved. He believes that with the trials they’re doing, things will start progressing soon.
“If I had a crystal ball, I’d say maybe two or three years from being fully open to do this therapy for those who would benefit from it.”
Psilocybin is the component in magic mushrooms that provides that altered state experience and allows people to see things from a different perspective.
“What you’re finding now in the industry across Canada, in the US and internationally, is that there’s a number of companies that are approaching this from different perspectives,” Harder says.
“Some just creating a psilocybin molecule in the lab and being used in therapy. And others are extracting psilocybin and other chemicals from magic mushrooms and they’re creating capsules for that.”
Under Health Canada regulations, clients are using the actual mushrooms for therapy
Harder believes the industry is moving towards a much more regulated approach to creating a dose that you can know exactly how much of that you take.
“If you go online right now to Google and look up ‘Canada magic mushrooms for sale’ you will find dozens of sites — all illegal. Completely illegal. There are legal growers that have Health Canada licences to grow but they are not allowed to sell to the public,” Harder says.
Enveric Biosciences, with offices in Naples, Florida and Calgary, is developing new and improved medicines to treat physical and mental ailments stemming from cancer and other conditions.
Its mission is to improve the characteristics of psychedelic and cannabinoid-derived pharmaceuticals by unlocking their full potential to create treatment solutions for a variety of indications with serious unmet medical needs.
Recently, the company announced it’s working with the University of Calgary’s (U of C) Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine in Calgary, to establish a groundbreaking clinical trial of EVM-101 for the treatment of Cancer Related Distress (CRD).
A clinical trial is on the horizon
The clinical trial is expected to launch later this year. EVM-101 is a first-generation psychedelic treatment for CRD. The EVM-101 study will directly assess the core features of CRD that are most affected and amenable to improvement following a psilocybin-based treatment.
Joe Tucker, CEO of Enveric and former assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at U of C says Enveric’s May 2021 acquisition of MagicMed Industries opened the door to the psychedelics space.
MagicMed had been studying novel molecules derived from psilocybin, also known as the active compound in magic mushrooms and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is the active ingredient in ayahuasca.
And the merger allows that work to continue, with improvements and later-stage clinical trial capability, Tucker adds.
“Recent studies suggest that psilocybin, the naturally-occurring psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, may be a unique and useful treatment for depression and Cancer Related Distress among a variety of other indications,” he explains.
“It not only produces significant and immediate effects, it also has long-lasting duration . . . Psychedelic-assisted therapy using psilocybin would involve ingesting it in a clinical setting as part of more traditional psychotherapy.”
This particular area shows promise based on early clinical data that we’ve seen in the biotechnology industry, Tucker explains.
“What we at Enveric are focused on is creating a novel pharmaceutical compound, based on classic psychedelics, which could potentially [be used] for improved safety, toxicity, onset, and perhaps non-hallucinogenic for the treatment of Cancer Related Distress.”
On the cusp of something big
Tucker says Canada has been a leader in fostering innovation in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. Part of the work is creating more awareness around Schedule I drugs, which require a prescription for sale.
“Although the stigma associated with Schedule I drugs have prohibited research for some time, we are pleased with Health Canada’s progress in loosening restrictions to allow research in this promising field, having recently issued a notice to clinical trial sponsors to clarify their approach to clinical research with psilocybin,” Tucker says.
Health Canada recognizes that conducting clinical research (i.e., research carried out on humans) is a critical step in the generation of good quality evidence needed to better understand the potential health benefits and harms associated with the therapeutic use of psilocybin.
On Jan. 5, 2022, Health Canada made effective amendments to the Special Access Program (SAP), granting medical practitioners the ability to request access to certain psychedelics for eligible patients.
“Treatment is accessible on a case by case basis, and is intended for emergency situations where, according to the Amendments, ‘other therapies have failed, are unsuitable, or are not available in Canada,” Tucker adds.