Here's what Health Canada's recent policy change means for local psychotherapists.
Last month, Health Canada took a big step in terms of increasing access to medical psychedelics in the country. It amended Food and Drug Regulations so that doctors could start requesting access to MDMA and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) for some of their patients — and a Montreal clinic is getting ready to put the policy change into practice.
Mindspace founder and director Dr. Joe Flanders told MTL Blog it's gearing up to deliver its first MDMA- and psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy treatments in the coming weeks, which it describes on its website as "a form of psychotherapy that involves the use of psychedelic substances [...] for the purpose of facilitating therapeutic breakthroughs and insight."
The clinic has been offering ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, another form of psychedelic-assisted therapy, for a couple of years already since doctors have been able to legally prescribe it. It also began the process of enrolling participants in an MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study for PTSD.
But Health Canada's revision allows Mindspace to work in a different way: through the Special Access Program (SAP). SAP was designed to give people access to "potentially life-saving medications before they are formally approved for routine use," explained Mindspace's parent company Numinus Wellness in a press release.
Health care professionals can file requests on behalf of patients to access these drugs and the recent amendment means psychedelics are now eligible as part of the program. But don't expect doctors to prescribe "tripping balls" willy nilly. To quality, patients must have "a serious or life-threatening condition where conventional treatments have failed, are unsuitable or are not available in Canada."
In January, a Health Canada spokesperson told Narcity the rule change is due to "increasing interest in the potential therapeutic uses of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA to treat various conditions, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and problematic substance use."
Dr. Flanders said Mindspace patients' doctors — whether their own family doctors or the clinic's medical directors — will soon start submitting these SAP applications.
"We've been excited to add psilocybin and MDMA to our offering because we believe they're incredibly powerful change agents," Dr. Flanders said. "The reason this is such a big deal is because we think that these are powerful tools that are going to help us help more people and make deeper, more lasting change with our clients."
Dr. Flanders told MTL Blog the clinic has been "overwhelmed" by the mental health crisis that's been exacerbated by the pandemic over the past two years.
"We've never had longer waiting lists. Normally, there's a seasonal ebb and flow by but there's no ebb anymore. The demand is constant and there's not a lot of turnover because people don't want to stop therapy or lose their therapists."
While Dr. Flanders said he's happy with Health Canada's move, seeing it as recognition that psychedelics have therapeutic benefits, he echoed sentiments from his colleagues at Numimus hoping for more.
"We applaud Health Canada and hope this is the first in a series of regulatory reforms where the federal government can provide leadership with the best interests of Canadians in mind," said Numinus Chief Medical Officer Dr. Evan Wood in the press release.
In December 2020, Dr. Flanders told MTL Blog he estimated that we’re three to five years away from "totally mainstream above-board access" to psilocybin and MDMA.
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.