Alberta Passes Psychedelic Therapy Regulations, But Hurdles Remain

Some critics say the new policy in Alberta will hinder access.

The government of Alberta made history earlier this month, becoming the first Canadian province to regulate psychedelic therapy, but the new rules have drawn mixed reviews.

Under the policy that was unveiled on October 5, “the provincial government will regulate the psychedelic drugs psilocybin, psilocin, MDMA, LSD, mescaline, DMT, 5 methoxy DMT and ketamine as a treatment for psychiatric disorders.”

“Some of the strongest supporters are among first responders and veterans who suffer from high rates of PTSD and other mental health conditions,” Alberta associate minister of mental health and addictions Mike Ellis said in the announcement at the time, as quoted by Forbes. “As a former police officer myself, I want to ensure that if there are promising practices to make life better for people with these conditions that we are supporting them in a professional way.”

On paper, the regulations would appear to be a breakthrough for psychedelic therapy, which has gained mainstream acceptance in recent years as a potentially effective therapy for a host of psychiatric and mental health disorders. 

Optimi Health, a Canadian healthcare company that specializes in pharmaceutical psilocybin, applauded the Alberta government.

“Yesterday, the Government of Alberta made a bold and politically courageous decision to regulate the use of psychedelic therapy for patients suffering from a variety of treatment-resistant conditions. They have accepted the substantial body of research, including the completion of a growing number of randomized clinical trials, which highlight psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms) when paired with psychotherapy as an emerging and novel approach for the treatment of a host of mental health conditions, including treatment-resistant depression, substance-use disorder, and severe anxiety associated with a terminal diagnosis,” Optimi CEO Bill Ciprick said in a statement.

“The increasing evidence supporting the benefits of psilocybin-containing mushrooms when used as part of psychotherapy has resulted in growing international interest in moving quickly to increase patient access to this treatment given the impressive and growing track records of safety in both the therapeutic and naturalistic use contexts,” Ciprick added.

Ciprick also noted the burgeoning support for the therapy among leaders in both Canada and the United States.

“We have seen widespread, bi-partisan support for psilocybin and MDMA Bills introduced in State legislatures across the United States; the Biden Administration has appointed a special task force to understand and prepare for the regulation of psychedelics in the U.S; and recently, Canadian Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, admitted that Canada needs a safe supply of drugs to fight the spiraling opioid crisis,” he said.

“While we await further details on Alberta’s regulatory framework, we encourage other provincial health ministries to start asking the right questions about psychedelic therapy, and to seek further guidance from the Psychedelic Association of Canada’s Memorandum of Regulatory Analysis (MORA) which provides a step-by-step regulatory framework for end-of-life and palliative Canadians.”

But some advocates anticipate problems arising from the new regulations.

Nick Kadysh, board chairman of the trade group Psychedelics Canada, said that the regulations are heavily tied to psychiatrists.

“Any clinic has to have a psychiatrist responsible,” he said in a recent interview with Postmedia. “Any patient has to talk to a psychiatrist before getting access to these therapies and we just know that there is an incredibly long wait time for psychiatry services in Alberta. So it becomes a patient access issue,” Kadysh said, as quoted by the Edmonton Journal.

Liam Bedard, coordinator of Psychedelics Canada, concurred with that.

“There are a number of qualified practitioners that can oversee these therapies and by mandating that only psychiatrists can manage them, it’s creating bottlenecks in accessing these potentially very valuable therapeutic tools,” he said, according to the Edmonton Journal.

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