OTTAWA – Canadian researchers are urging Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor to support broad research on the use of psychedelic drugs —including LSD and an active ingredient in magic mushrooms — as medical treatments for conditions including addiction and depression.
Mark Haden, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is among leading experts who say psychedelics could offer a breakthrough for a range of health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder and opioid addiction — an urgent national health crisis.
It is “absolutely pressing” for the federal government to examine the safe use of the drugs in controlled clinical settings, Haden said, adding that a “psychedelic renaissance” underway in the research world could greatly benefit patients.
“Researchers have walked through the wide open door and are demonstrating a level of effectiveness that has not been seen in things like addictions treatment,” Haden said.
“What we have is a fentanyl crisis on our hands but we also have a crisis of spending way too much money criminalizing people for their drugs. It is a non-evidence based approach.”
MDMA — commonly known as ecstasy— was the subject of a clinical trial in Vancouver sponsored by MAPS and authorized in 2009. It studied the drug’s effectiveness in treating PTSD.
The research did not get federal funding.
“We’ve done the work … it is a multi-country trial and the phase two clinical data was examined by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the States and they granted this process as breakthrough status,” he said.
“What that means in the States is that they will essentially fast-track it. It would be reasonable therefore that Health Canada looks at that and says ‘If the American FDA are so enthusiastic about this, what could Health Canada do to support the equivalent?'”
Haden and other researchers are now also pressing the federal health minister to act on a House of Commons petition calling for Ottawa to explore multi-year funding on psychedelic research projects at hospitals and universities.
It is sponsored by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.
It is important to explore treatments that could help Canadians suffering from mental health issues, Erskine-Smith said Monday.
“We, as a society, are coming to grips with the importance of addressing mental health concerns,” he said in an interview. “We should explore every opportunity we can to explore those concerns.”
Erskine-Smith said he has been vocal on the push to decriminalize simple possession of all drugs and the need to treat addiction as a health issue, noting this is why petitioners approached him on the issue.
“I don’t think we should be taking options off the table just because people have pre-conceived and often times, ill-conceived notions of harms associated with psychedelics or other drugs,” he said.
“There’s evidence these are promising therapies and no one is asking these therapies be rolled out — they are asking for more research.”
A spokesperson for Petitpas Taylor did not comment on the petition and instead pointed to a list of federal funding investments including $17.5 million for a PTSD centre under the Veterans Affairs Department.
Yves Comeau, the director of communications for the minister, made no mention of Ottawa funding psychedelic research.
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