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Vancouver rejects 'alarmist' request to prevent sales of psychedelic mushrooms

Last Updated Sep 20, 2019 at 5:10 pm PDT

(Source: iStock)

Advocates want to see compassionate approach as dispensaries eye illegal mushroom sales

A councillor says people have expressed concerns illegal mushrooms and other drugs could have ties to money laundering

Vancouver City Council rejected motion after councillors called it 'alarmist' and 'stigmatizing'

NEWS 1130 (Vancouver) — Touting successful clinical trials, relative safety of the drug and its apparent healing benefits, advocates for magic mushrooms just had a win at Vancouver city council Wednesday evening.

Council rejected a proposal to prevent sales of psychedelics after more than a dozen people spoke against it.

City council debated, then shut down a motion to have staff work with Vancouver Police and Vancouver Coastal Health on identifying potential impacts such sales could have to public safety, public health and the annual operating budget.

Councillor Melissa De Genova put forward the motion, saying she worries those selling illicit drugs could also have ties to organized crime and money laundering, which council has committed to preventing.

“I’ve definitely heard from people who are concerned about this and have heard of others who may be opening a dispensary,” she says.

De Genova also says illegal cannabis dispensaries cost the city money and time, and delayed the development of housing projects and other permits during an affordability and housing crisis

More than a dozen speakers from the public unanimously spoke against the motion in front of council on Wednesday night. De Genova defended her motion over the course of the evening. She pointed to Dr. Peter German’s report on money laundering, earning chuckles from the speakers when she pointed out that Health Canada’s website says mushrooms are an injectable drug.

“Some feel that what they do is completely above board and they feel they have very ethical practices of suppliers. That being said, the information that I received from our staff clearly states that if it’s an illegal drug supply and we don’t have a clean supply that’s taxed and regulated, that often comes along with organized crime, gangs and money laundering.”

De Genova points out that medicinal cannabis was accessible through Health Canada long before recreational legalization, but medicinal mushroom use remains relegated to clinical trials.

“There were ways that people that people could obtain a prescription for cannabis and they could receive it through health Canada and the reason for that, I understand, is there were substantiated health benefits. I have a concern that with other drugs, unless it’s stated otheriwse, is what we’re seeing is unsubstatiated health benefits,” says De Genova.

Science gives hope to patients

Jennifer Cole is a member of the Squamish Nation living in east Vancouver. She says magic mushrooms gave her liberty from a debilitating illness after 35 years of suffering.

“In November 2017 I took my first microdose,” she told council. “And then everything changed.”

A “microdose” is a small amount of a drug taken to reduce or eliminate its psychoactive effects,

Cole says she was diagnosed with cluster headaches and has dealt with them since the age of 11. The disease is also known as “suicide headaches” because the pain can be so unbearable.

“My neurologist is fully aware of and supportive of my microdosing. The only concern that he presented to me was his inability to prescribe it to me because there’s nowhere for me to take that prescription,” she told council.

“Cole joined two members from Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS Canada), a mycologist, a clinical therapist an ex-heroin addict and a person who described extensive childhood trauma as they each adressed the policy makers.”

The producers of DOSED, a new documentary film that will premiere in Vancouver in early October, were also there to tell the story of how their film came to be. Tyler Chandler told council about his friend, and the subject of DOSED who has been off of opioids for 18 months after she began self-medicating with mushrooms.

“She’s living a much healthier and better life and it started with magic mushrooms,” he says he helped her access the drug and it was “a little bit scary” trying to navigate the black market at first.

Chandler wants to see a more compassionate approach to medicinal access and says he’s incredibly happy De Genova’s motions was tossed.

The ‘new’ science

According to COMPASS Pathways, a drug company sponsoring a pending clinical trial of psylocibins to treat stubborn cases of depression, there are a number of late stage trials in Europe and North America looking to prove the efficacy of new psychedelic treatments.

“We are actively exploring additional indications for psilocybin and at least two new substances, with a goal of bringing these to market over the next 5-10 years,” says the company’s website.

Earlier this month John Hopkins University in Baltimore announced the creation of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. The school says it is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. and potentially the largest such centre in the world.

Researchers at the MAPS Canada have also began working with LSD, MDMA (ecstacy) and ayahuasca to better understand how those psychedelics can help patients with PTSD, severe anxiety and other mental health issues.  Some of the MDMA/PTSD research has taken place at UBC already.

Meanwhile, Michael Pollen — an author and public speaker who is well known for his books on the global food system — has been speaking about his experiences with psychedelics. He recently published How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

He does not advocate for the complete legalization of mushrooms and other psychedelics, and advocates for supervised use, even medicinally. However, he says there should be changes to current regulation.

“I don’t believe medicalization should be the only future for psilocybin, and that people without clinical diagnoses should have access to these substances as well. But we don’t yet know the best way to do that safely outside of a medical or religious context, ” he says.

“A ballot initiative currently being drafted in Oregon would legalize guided psilocybin therapy under a state regulatory regime. It’s too soon to say whether this represents a sensible approach to making psilocybin available to healthy (as well as ill) people in a way that minimizes risks,” he writes on his website.

De Genova says she’s done her research and understands there are trials underway.

“I’m not saying that there aren’t health benefits, perhaps they just haven’t been discovered or reported on yet,” she says.

“It’s my understanding from Vancouver Coastal Health that at this time they don’t have that evidence … perhaps at some point we’ll get there just as we got to legalization with cannabis. But if I look at municipalities that waited and worked with the [federal] government … I have to say I think it was a less painful process for them.”