4 Canadians With Terminal Cancer Approved For Psilocybin Therapy In Monumental Milestone for Psychedelics

Therapsil Logo Psilocybin Therapy Canada


On August 4th, 2020, four Canadians with terminal cancer made history by gaining approval from the Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, to utilize psilocybin (magic mushroom) therapy to treat their end-of-life anxiety. Given that these are the first legal medical exemptions for psilocybin made in Canada since 1970, this measure marks a massive international milestone in the arenas of decriminalization and patient access for the burgeoning psychedelic medicine space. Through section 56(1), these four Canadians represent the first publicly-known persons to gain legal exemption from the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act. They are also the first patients to historically access psilocybin legally since 1974, when the promising fungi became outlawed in Canada. This extraordinary occasion signifies a consequential turning point for the psychedelic revolution, both for Canadians and the world at large.


Psilocybin Therapy for Palliative Patients Approved Canada Therapsil


TheraPsil: The Groundbreaking Canadian Non-Profit Coalition Behind This Historic Measure


Made up of a coalition of healthcare professionals, patients, and advocates dedicated to obtaining legal access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, the innovative non-profit organization, TheraPsil, is behind the passing of this groundbreaking measure. Based in Victoria, Canada, and established in 2019, TheraPsil’s program begins with supporting palliative care patients in Canada that meet the following inclusion criteria:


  • You are 19+, have an incurable illness and/or are in palliative care
  • Experiencing end-of-life distress and have not responded to other treatments
  • Resident of British Colombia or Ontario
  • You are willing and interested in pursuing psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy


TheraPsil aims to provide compassionate treatment to Canadians with an incurable diagnosis or to those who are in palliative care, or those who experience end-of-life-distress. This innovative organization ultimately hopes to expand their efforts to include increased access to treatment, public education, professional training, and evidence-based research. Therapsil’s executive director had these encouraging words to say about the dramatic development:


“It’s heartening to see our government listening and accommodating to the needs of the brave patients, health care professionals, and MPs who stood up and fought for access to psilocybin mushrooms. This sets a clear precedent, that access to currently illegal medicine in Canada is possible and that elected officials are willing to listen and change policies when necessary. We at TheraPsil look forward to continuing patient advocacy and working with the Canadian government to help define new laws and regulations around psilocybin that best serve Canadians” Spencer Hawkswell, Executive Director, Therapsil


Psilocybin therapy effective palliative care cancer patient


Clinical Snapshot: Psilocybin’s Efficacy in Treating End-Of-Life Distress in Terminal Patients


Perhaps one of the most compelling and compassionate uses for psychedelic therapy is for the treatment of psychological and existential distress in palliative and cancer care. Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence showing that psychedelics can produce “rapid, robust and enduring anxiolytic and antidepressant effects” in terminal patients.1,2 Contemporary clinical research into psychedelic therapy generally entails a “drug-assisted psychotherapy paradigm whereby participants undergo just one or a small number of drug sessions intended to produce a profound and temporary alteration of consciousness.”3 Important factors addressed in this novel treatment model include “set and setting,” the concept that the patient’s experience to the drug treatment is “highly influenced by factors such as expectancy, preparation, and intention (set), and physical or social environments (setting)…”4 These factors are important to consider and can be carefully managed by adequately preparing patients before treatment, establishing a safe space, and having trained guides present during the experience. Another key factor to consider is post-treatment during non-drug sessions so that patients have the opportunity to effectively integrate their experience.3


elderly family member hand holding end-of-life distress

Details to Consider When Consciously Implementing Psilocybin-Assisted Compassionate Care


As this historic measure marks another bold step forward in the psychedelic renaissance, many questions about how the compassionate use of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy will be integrated into the modern-day healthcare system have been posed. Perhaps the most important concern is how long the “red tape” may take to iron out, particularly due to the time-sensitive nature of the condition (end-of-life distress) being treated. Other notable concerns include whether patients will be administered dried stems/caps, truffles or synthetic, GMP-grade psilocybin during treatment. This particular decision clearly has significant implications on the budding psychedelic medicine industry—especially those organizations involved in producing the medicine and those involved with the supply chain. Developments such as whether or not a designated supplier will be established still remains to be seen, all while the eagerly evolving industry waits on policymakers to make some big, impactful decisions.


psilocybin assisted psychotherapy Canada mental health


Looking Ahead to the Future: Psilocybin End of Life Therapy Approval Catalyst for Change


The passage of this extraordinary measure by Canada’s Minister of Health establishes an exciting and hopeful precedent for the future of psychedelic medicine. It is anticipated that many more applications made through the exemption process provided under the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act will be submitted to advance the integration of psychedelic medicine into the modern pharmacopeia. This outstanding achievement by Canada certainly adds much needed pressure on the rest of the globe to make more progressive strides surrounding psychedelic medicine. As TheraPsil’s dedicated team continues to fight for expanded access and greater research into the promising benefits of psychedelic medicine, the world is certainly watching these four patients, collectively wishing them the very best in their treatment and their journey ahead.


psilocybin effective for end-of-life distress anxiety cancer terminal


Works Cited


  1. Malone, T. C. et al. Individual Experiences in Four Cancer Patients Following Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy. Front. Pharmacol. 9, (2018).
  2. Ross, S. et al. Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J. Psychopharmacol. Oxf. Engl. 30, 1165–1180 (2016).
  3. Rosenbaum, D. et al. Psychedelics for psychological and existential distress in palliative and cancer care. Curr. Oncol. 26, 225–226 (2019).
  4. Hartogsohn, I. Set and setting, psychedelics and the placebo response: An extra-pharmacological perspective on psychopharmacology. J. Psychopharmacol. Oxf. Engl. 30, 1259–1267 (2016).


Gaurav Dubey

Gaurav Dubey

Gaurav Dubey is a dynamic clinical biologist, evidence-based branding professional and entrepreneur with a passion for scientific writing and traveling the world. He earned a dual bachelor’s degree in biology and philosophy from the University of Miami in 2011 and his Master’s in Biotechnology from Rush University Medical Center in 2015. Gaurav was recently published as lead author in the world's leading transplant journal, The Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation, for a study investigating second-time lung re-transplantation. He is passionate about psychedelic medicine and recently accepted a position as content editor at Microdose, an opportunity he is very excited about. He is also the Founder & President of Karmik, LLC, an evidence-based branding firm for extraordinary life science brands.