For the first time, a psilocybin mushroom license was granted in New Zealand, marking a major milestone in a Māori health science. The effort was led by Rangiwaho marae, based south of Gisborne in New Zealand.
According to an Oct. 26 joint media release, Rua Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical business also based in Tairāwhiti, was granted the license. The company is involved as a research and development support partner, exploring psilocybin’s potential in treating conditions like addiction.
The license is the result of a collaboration of a network of rongoā Māori practitioners, ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research), University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Mātai Medical Research Institute, an iwi health provider and other community stakeholders.
They plan to uncover the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, which has been used in traditional medicine in Aotearoa (the Māori-language name for New Zealand) and around the world for thousands of years.
Rangiwaho marae in Tairāwhiti, Gisborne is exploring psilocybin’s potential in treating methamphetamine addiction, particularly in rewiring the brain in ways traditional ways cannot. It’s based in Te Ao Māori and unlike other clinical studies that only use a single extract or synthetically produced psilocybin, this study plans to use the whole mushroom. One of the researchers is Dr. Mitchell Head (Tainui; Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Naho), a neuroscientist based at Waikato University.
“We are hugely excited about this opportunity for our whānau” said Rangiwaho trustee Jody Toroa. “These taonga are provided by the atua and our people have been using them for healing and wellness for centuries. We have been learning from tohunga about how the taonga can help shift ingrained habits and unhelpful ways of thinking, to open up new possibilities.”
“It is a privilege to be involved in this ground-breaking project and we are excited to be able to support this kaupapa,” said Paul Naske, CEO of Rua Bioscience. “It is exciting to see Australia and other jurisdictions embracing innovative and potentially life-changing medical research with psilocybin and exciting for Rua Bioscience to now be part of such a great national collaboration.
Collaborating with Rangiwaho, ESR, rongoā practitioners and university medical researchers provides us with a unique opportunity to explore cultivation techniques that can contribute to research undertaken in a culturally safe environment with the support of a range of expertise. Bringing together Mātauranga Māori, psychedelic traditions and contemporary neuroscience research is world-leading innovation based here in Tairāwhiti.”
Project regulatory advisor Manu Caddie said the decision by Manatū Hauora, the Ministry of Health, to grant the cultivation license reflects sea change in the attitudes towards psychedelic substances in the field of therapy. It will help position New Zealand taking the initiative on this evolving new branch of research.
Official Information provided by Medsafe last month to the New Zealand Drug Foundation showed that no one in New Zealand has been prescribed psilocybin to date in a clinical setting.
Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Trials Boom in New Zealand
While Australia became the first country to legalize psilocybin (and MDMA) last June for therapeutic purposes, New Zealand has no plans to reclassify psilocybin. However, psychedelic-assisted therapy trials with exemptions are booming in New Zealand.
Three applications have been made for using psilocybin in clinical trials, all in the past 18 months.
The New Zealand Herald reported last year that a new trial is set to look into whether psilocybin could prove to be effective treatment for people with severe depression. University of Otago Christchurch professor Marie Crowe said the trial will take 10 weeks and involve eight weeks of psychotherapy and two full doses of psilocybin.
“Depression is such a pervasive thing in New Zealand, and elsewhere, and people don’t always respond to anti-depressants and some people don’t want to take them,” Crowe said at the time. “So this would provide another option.”
Researchers associated with the University of Otago, the University of Auckland and independent provider Mana Health are also currently investigating whether MDMA can help cancer patients.
Progress is being made with cannabis as well. New Zealand health regulators last year began allowing the use of domestically produced medicinal cannabis products, ending patients’ reliance on imported medical cannabis products. The Ministry of Health allowed access to local medicines beginning on Sept. 9, opening a new opportunity for New Zealand cannabis growers and manufacturers.
Under New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis legalization laws, any licensed general physician can prescribe cannabis medications to any patient to treat any health condition. But since 2017, only imported cannabis medicines have been approved for use by patients.
A cannabis legalization initiative to legalize pot in 2020 failed, after being rejected by voters. Totals from the election held on October 17, 2020 showed that 53% of voters chose not to support the initiative, while 46% voted in favor of cannabis legalization.