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Canadian Lawsuit Aims to Administer Access to Psilocybin for Medical Use

If history actually repeats itself, then psychedelic advocates would be well suited to keep their eyes on a potential landmark case that was filed in Canadian courts. 

A lawsuit filed late last month in Canada asserts that prohibition of psilocybin restricts the freedom of Canadian patients, and seeks to increase access for patients and healthcare providers. And although the case may still take time to make its way through the courts, psychedelic advocates are looking to this legal challenge as a potential groundbreaking moment in the fight for natural medical alternatives. 

The lawsuit centers on the same legal mechanism that paved the way for Canada to invalidate cannabis prohibition on behalf of a patient who used cannabis to treat epilepsy. Now, the courts will decide whether or not seven patients have access to psilocybin under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, which guarantees citizens the right to life, liberty and the security of person. 

In addition to the “Plaintiff Patients”, the lawsuit also includes a healthcare practitioner, and is being backed by TheraPsil, a Canadian non-profit that advocates for patients rights and works to help individuals gain access to emerging treatments. It is because of that work, and the inability of some of the plaintiffs to gain access to psilocybin, that all parties involved are seeking a dramatic upheaval of the way psychedelics are treated by government action. 

The plaintiff’s ask is simple, and stated clearly on TheraPsil’s website: Expanded access to psilocybin beyond the current scope of accepted medical use. 

“Canadians are being denied psilocybin medicine because of outdated, unnecessary and unconstitutional laws which violate their Charter rights. Patients are taking the government to court, and we are supporting them every step of the way.”

For TheraPsil and the plaintiffs, the lawsuit is about access to a “long studied” substance, and contends that psilocybin has shown it can be a more effective treatment option for conditions that are not being treated with adequate remedies. 

“Recent studies and anecdotal evidence have exposed psilocybin as a highly effective treatment for a number of conditions,” the filing claims, “including depression, anxiety, existential distress, addiction, cluster headaches, neurological pain, obsessive compulsive disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

It is because of that evidence that the plaintiffs believe it is within their rights to have access to natural medications as an alternative treatment option. The filing goes on to label psilocybin as “safe” and claims that the substance is a non-addictive option with a “virtually non-existent” risk of overdose.

Because of these characteristics, the filing claims that the Plaintiff Patients, who collectively represent the conditions listed above, have a legal right to expanded access for psilocybin. 

“These are conditions which are often ineffectively treated with the medical options available in the Canadian healthcare system. They are also deeply serious conditions. Without effective treatment, these conditions cause significant suffering to millions of Canadians, drastically impacting their well-being on a daily basis.”

As the law stands, Canadian patients currently have access to psilocybin through three different pathways. Under the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, patients can receive a personal exemption, while Canada’s Special Access Program allows patients to work with a doctor to obtain authorization. Patients can also gain access by being enrolled in a clinical trial. 

Those methods are not enough, claims the lawsuit. In the filing, the plaintiffs refer to the current methods of access as “Flawed Exemptions/Authorizations” and claim those options “do not provide constitutionally viable access to psilocybin”. 

One of the patients included in the lawsuit, Thomas Hartle, was actually the first Canadian patient to receive medical access under these pathways. Hartle is currently battling stage four cancer, and has turned to legal cannabis as a treatment in the past. More recently, Hartle turned to psilocybin as a way to treat his “existential despair”, as Hartle seeks out a treatment option that does more than just “temporarily mask” his daily anxiety and suffering. 

However, Hartle’s exemption to use psilocybin only lasted so long, and now Hartle is quickly approaching 400 days in his wait to see if his exemption is renewed.  

For that reason, Hartle is one of the patients now suiting the government for access to psilocybin. According to TheraPsil CEO Spencer Hawkswell, patients like Hartle are what this action is about: It’s a lawsuit designed to secure the rights of citizens to pursue any and all healthcare options. 

“Our Section 7 rights says that Canadians have the right to life, liberty and security of persons,” Hawkswell said in an interview with Frshminds. “And what that security of persons means is that you should be able to access your medicine without the possibility of going to jail. And the liberty and life is that you shouldn’t be deprived of a good life.” 

“Unfortunately, the current laws do not know themselves… we’re looking to correct that.”

Author

  • Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.