Decriminalizing some hard drugs in British Columbia could help reduce the stigma surrounding psychedelics that have medicinal value but have been caught up in the war on drugs, experts say.
“The War on Drugs is a major driver of the overdose epidemic and it may also be one of the reasons why we are not using the best treatment for mental health – psychedelics” said Zach Walsh, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and scientist at the BC Center on Substance Use.
“In the 1970s international bans on a number of drugs – including psychedelics, but also harder drugs – began. Since then they have all been lumped together.
But Walsh said psychedelics, opioids and stimulants should be treated differently.
“So when the drug war collapses, you see decriminalization, you see more acceptance of psychedelics. They could have mental health benefits. They’re both symptoms of a bigger change in public attitudes.
For approximately three years from January 2023, adults in British Columbia who possess 2.5 grams or less of illicit drugs for personal use – including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – will not be arrested, charged or will not have their drugs seized.
“Instead, police will offer information about available health services and social supports and help with referrals upon request,” the province said in a May news release.
Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said the move would remove the stigma that prevents people from accessing lifesaving support and services.
As attitudes towards hard drugs have changed, experts have noted a resurgence of interest in psychedelics. The green light has been given to test psychedelics and their derivatives on hundreds of people around the world in clinical trials.
Damien Kettlewell is the CEO of Clairvoyant Therapeutics, a British Columbia-based company that is conducting clinical trials on dozens of people to see how psilocybin, an active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can help treat drug use disorders. ‘alcohol.
Kettlewell said decriminalizing certain illicit substances can help reduce the stigma against therapy that involves ingesting mind-altering substances – including psilocybin, ketamine, LSD or MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) – in a clinical setting as part of more traditional psychotherapy.
“I encourage skeptics to look at the history of the War on Drugs. LSD was used quite effectively by psychotherapists in California in the 1950s for alcoholism. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous attributed Alcoholics Anonymous to an LSD trip he had experienced in the 1930s. A lot of research was done in the 1950s and 60s regarding psilocybin and all of that research was stopped,” said said Kettlewell.
“Then there was a generation of misinformation spread to demonize these substances as they have been used by some Indigenous communities for thousands of years for positive results.
Alexander Somjen, CEO of Origin Therapeutics, agrees.
“Decriminalization increases awareness of (addiction and mental health issues) and therefore increases the need to find alternative forms of treatment to address the problem,” said Somjen, who invests in psychedelic companies.
“Many issues of addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety stem from these deeply ingrained thought patterns and neural pathways. Psilocybin has the potential to help people see the world differently and form a new more positive narrative in their brain as a sort of check-suppression function for the brain.
Walsh said reducing the stigma around drugs is a positive step.
“Like any war, it takes a long time to dismantle, and we’re seeing it piece by piece.”
— Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press