Professionals demand psilocybin for training

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Many Canadians go underground to receive the therapy “and this will continue if we don’t train therapists,” a lawyer said.

About 80 medical professionals across the country are challenging Health Canada’s decision to deny their requests for restricted use of psychedelic drugs in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy training.

The professionals – including doctors, psychologists, clinical advisers, social workers and nurses – sent affidavits to Health Canada on Monday after the federal agency issued a letter of intent to deny their claims.

They applied last year for exemptions to use controlled substances in their practices under a section of the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act that allows exceptions.

“Over the past two years, we have not been able to train enough healthcare professionals to meet the demand of patients requiring psychedelic-assisted therapy,” said Spencer Hawkswell, CEO of TheraPsil, an advocacy group that operates the training program in which healthcare professionals are enrolled.

“We need emergency access. After a year of waiting, they are told no, and that is unacceptable, because many of them have patients, some of whom (some of whom) have died… waiting for support. They could have been helped.”

Psychedelic-assisted therapy involves ingesting mind-altering substances – including psilocybin, ketamine, LSD, or MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) – in a clinical setting as part of more psychotherapy. traditional.

Hawkswell said hundreds of Canadians learn about it each year because they are in palliative care, have become resistant to treatment or are dealing with end-of-life distress. Others request the substances to treat their anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses.

“There are only three practitioners on TheraPsil’s roster … who are licensed to act as primary therapists and have completed experiential training,” says the affidavit filed by TheraPsil attorney Nicholas Pope.

“Trained practitioners are clustered in only a few regions of Canada, making them virtually inaccessible to patients outside of the local neighborhood.”

In the document, Dr. Valorie Masuda of Victoria, British Columbia, who received experimental training as part of a clinical trial, says “she no longer has the capacity to manage other patients. and that she doesn’t know anyone else she could refer to. a patient for assessment, support and treatment.”

Hawkswell said many Canadians are going underground to receive the therapy “and that’s going to continue if we don’t train therapists.”

Hawkswell and Yassie Pirani, a Vancouver-based licensed clinical counselor, say there is a need for experts who support patients during their psychotherapy to experience the therapy itself.

“The experiential component is absolutely critical,” said Pirani, who is also one of dozens mentioned in affidavits submitted to Health Canada.

“It is believed that by directly experiencing this non-ordinary state of consciousness, therapists… will be better able to intervene and, more importantly, know when not to intervene, and help patients to integrate their psilocybin experience.”

Pirani, which helps treat anxiety and depression, said the effectiveness of psilocybin is “really exciting”.

There are drugs that doctors are currently prescribing, for example, that can lead to irreversible sexual dysfunction, but “psilocybin has far fewer risks and that’s known in research.”

Health Canada recently changed its laws to allow doctors to request restricted psychedelic drugs for patients as part of their psychotherapy.

TheraPsil attorney Pope said the requests are time consuming and require “many hours of multiple knowledgeable and properly trained medical professionals to assess, support and treat a patient.” But there are not enough to meet the demand.

Health Canada suggests in its letter that professionals requesting training exemptions should enroll in an already approved clinical trial in which they could access psilocybin, or Therapsil can create its own clinical trial.

Healthcare practitioners were already aware of the clinical trial before they requested the exemption, Hawskwell said.

“They said this clinical trial wouldn’t work either because of the cost, because of the location, because of the timeline. Clinical trials potentially cost millions of dollars.

“We have patients dying right now.”

Health Canada has granted about 80 exemptions for a variety of reasons, including people with cancer, PTSD, chronic pain, and a patient with an opioid-related disorder.

In 2020, TheraPsil represented 17 healthcare practitioners who successfully challenged Health Canada’s intention to deny their claim.

Hawkswell and lawyer Pope have said they are ready to apply for a charter if Health Canada does not reverse its refusal.

“You cannot infringe on the life, liberty and safety of patients, and there is little or no evidence that the exemption would harm public safety,” Pope said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 28, 2022.

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