A Canadian psychedelics therapy advocacy group on Monday announced that it has coordinated what is reportedly Quebec’s first legal group therapy session with psilocybin. The session, during which two cancer patients received simultaneous psilocybin-assisted therapy treatment, was conducted in September at The Hope & Cope Wellness Centre in Montreal.
During the session, the patients were under the care of Dr. Houman Farzin, a trainer, supervisor, and member of the ethics committee of TheraPsil, a nonprofit group that advocates for the advancement of psilocybin therapies. The session utilized psilocybin medications donated by Psygen and Filament Health, with access granted to the drugs through Health Canada’s Special Access Program (SAP). TheraPsil characterized the group therapy session as a “historic development,” coming less than a year after Quebec’s health regulator became the first governing medical body in Canada to publicly fund psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.
Dr. Kyle Greenway, who leads a research group investigating psychedelic therapies at McGill University and works as a psychiatrist at the Jewish General Hospital, helped guide the group psilocybin session conducted in September.
“As psychedelic therapies accumulate evidence and generate public interest, many questions must be answered about how to make them accessible to appropriate patients in the real world, outside of the narrow confines of clinical trials,” Greenway said in a statement from TheraPsil. “This day offered a glimpse of how this might be accomplished within public healthcare systems, in accordance with emerging standards for the non-pharmacological elements that are necessary for both safety and effectiveness with psychedelics.”
The patients, who were previously unacquainted, underwent preparatory psychotherapy sessions, guided by trained therapists, to ensure that they were ready for a shared transformative experience in the same therapeutic environment. Florence Moureaux, one of the two patients in the group session, said that she felt “truly privileged to have access to psilocybin-assisted therapy, which enables me to reinvest in my life and give back its full meaning despite a diagnosis of a terminal illness.”
“I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Farzin and all those who are working tirelessly to make this treatment available in Quebec,” Moureaux said in a statement. “I remain troubled, however, by the fact that even here, in a country that is often at the forefront of compassionate legislation, this therapy remains accessible to only a tiny minority.”
Psychedelics And Mental Health
Studies conducted by Johns Hopkins and other researchers have shown that psilocybin has the potential to be an effective treatment for several serious mental health conditions, including PTSD, major depressive disorder, anxiety and substance misuse disorders. A study published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. And separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
Federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration are currently reviewing the potential for psychedelics to treat serious mental health conditions. In May 2022, the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote to U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, that FDA approval of psilocybin to treat depression was likely within the next two years.
As the nation faces rising rates of substance use and mental health issues “we must explore the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapies to address this crisis,” Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, wrote to Dean.
The ongoing research has prompted several states to consider legislation to ease the prohibition on psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs, particularly for therapeutic purposes. In May, Oregon officials issued the state’s first license for a psychedelic therapy treatment center following the legalization of magic mushrooms for therapeutic use with the passage of a 2020 ballot measure. A similar initiative was approved by Colorado voters in 2022. In September, the California legislature passed a bill that would have legalized the personal possession and use of some psychedelics including psilocybin mushrooms, but Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure last month, calling instead for a bill to regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy.