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What is psilocybin-assisted therapy?

This type of therapy has been shown to greatly help people who are experiencing a terminal diagnosis, and also those with treatment resistant depression. 

There are many different forms that psilocybin assisted therapy can take, from a clinically-informed perspective to a more holistic exploration of your feelings. 

Is psilocybin assisted therapy legal in Canada?

The first legal use of psilocybin therapy happened in Canada with a man named Thomas Hartle in 2020. He tripped along with his doctor and one of his good friends, describing the trip as a very pure emotional experience. Hartle had been diagnosed with stage four cancer four years earlier. He said that the anxiety was all-consuming, and it felt as though he were actively dying. 

Hartle attempted conventional care for his end-of-life anxiety, such as therapy, meditation, and antidepressants. However, like many people who use antidepressants, Hartle found that while the high levels of anxiety were cut off, so too were the highest levels of happiness. He applied to Health Canada for permission to use psilocybin mushrooms as treatment for anxiety, and was granted permission in 2020.

Is psilocybin treatment for depression common in Canada?

Unfortunately for Hartle, further attempts to use Health Canada-sanctioned psilocybin for anxiety therapy have been denied. As recently as March 2023, Hartle was denied the use of the psychedelic for therapy related to his continuing terminal diagnosis. 

Can depression be treated with psilocybin?

Treatment resistant major depressive disorder is challenging to treat. A new trial examined whether psilocybin, a tryptamine alkaloid found in psilocibe mushrooms, might be safe and effective treatment for treatment-resistant depression. 

In a double-blind randomized clinical trial, 233 adults with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder were randomly assigned to receive 25 milligrams, 10 milligrams, or 1 milligram of synthetic psilocybin in a single dose. All patients received psychological support. Participants who received the 1 milligram dose served as the control group. On the scale used by researchers for these studies, higher scores correlated to greater depression severity. 

What were the results?

The secondary endpoint (the level of depressions seen after treatment) was generally lower in the 25 milligram dose than the 10 or 1 at 3 weeks. At 12 weeks, however, the sustained response was not appreciably different between the groups.

Adverse events were more frequent in the 25 milligram group and commonly included headache, nausea, and dizziness. The researchers concluded that among adults with treatment resistant depression, 25 milligrams of psilocybin reduced depression severity scores significantly more than a 1 milligram dose over a period of three weeks, but was associated with higher incidence of adverse events.

How do people get legal psilocybin in Canada?

You need to find a doctor who’s willing to apply for you. The legal use of psilocybin is highly regulated, with a guide ensuring your safety and maximizing your healing potential under Canadian law. Almost every patient that has been granted permission to use psilocybin in Canada has done so for treatment related to end-of-life care. 

How do you prepare for a psilocybin therapy session?

It varies from place to place. In Canada, as mentioned, there is a heavy slant towards end-of-life care in terms of mushroom therapy, which means the preparation is informed by that process. In other places, however, the approach can be more holistic and at the request of the user, rather than only for terminal diagnoses. 

One guide for psychedelic assisted therapy says that they meet with the patient before the trip, get a brain scan and some blood tests to make sure everything is good to go. Then the patient and the guide speak about the intentions for the trip. Maybe the patient is encouraged to bring objects to the tripping session that symbolize their intentions. These prior conversations help to build the trust and rapport that is necessary to have an emotionally fulfilling trip with a therapy guide. 

What happens during a shroom therapy session?

Many different things might happen! The therapist you work with might ask you to complete a visualization exercise while laying in a comfortable position. This visualization might help you to feel the different tensions that are present in your body. If you stay with those tensions, they can lead you to deeper realizations about yourself and your relationship with your body. 

Psychedelics can be beautiful, but you may also have a darker experience. The benefit of psilocybin therapy is that you have a sober guide who is usually a medical professional. That means that you can traverse through the dark places of your mind without fear that you’ll impair your ability to care for yourself. When you’re tripping shrooms and walking through a park or hanging out in your backyard, you don’t necessarily have the same sense of security as you might with a professional, which means you might not want to explore those same dark areas. 

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