Four late-stage cancer patients granted legal exemption to use magic mushrooms for therapy

Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu has approved the application by four terminal Canadian cancer patients to use psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms or shrooms, for their end-of-life therapy.

The patients’ application invoked s. 56 (1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19, which gives the federal health minister the power to grant an exemption from any provision of the legislation upon the belief that the exemption is needed for a medical or scientific purpose or is in the public interest.

This is the first time that anyone has been publicly granted an exemption to access psychedelic therapy under the legislation, and also the first time that any patient has legally used the compound since it was first declared illegal in the country back in 1974, said a news release from TheraPsil, a non-profit coalition that fights for compassionate legal access to psilocybin therapy for palliative Canadians.

“Although it has taken a long time we are impressed with [the federal health minister’s and the government’s] willingness to listen to patients who have not been heard and to shift focus and policy to accommodate their interests and protect their needs,” said Dr. Bruce Tobin, founder and chairman of TheraPsil.

Tobin and TheraPsil had supported the four patients with their application, which was initiated in 2017 and initially denied in March this year. Upon review, however, the four patients received approvals on compassionate grounds.

Laurie Brooks, one of the four patients granted an approval, said that she hoped that “this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission.”

TheraPsil said in the news release that it expected other applications seeking exemptions under the legislation to follow.

“The recent grant of the section 56 exemption by the Minister of Health for the legal use of psilocybin may represent a watershed moment for further exemptions on a similar basis,” said McMillan LLP in a news release.