Canada: The New Hub for Hallucinogens

Canada The New Hub for Hallucinogens
Interest in psychedelics has piqued among medical and scientific professionals and organizations. Although the majority of Canadians are still coming to grips with recreational and medicinal cannabis, scientific research into the benefits of various drugs continues. This means that in addition to earning world-renowned fame for premium bud, Canada is now home to in-depth research on hallucinogens and hallucinogen-assisted therapy.  Hallucinogens have been around for millennia, and have been used around the globe by a number of cultures for medicinal and spiritual purposes. These days, in the midst of the global pandemic, Canada is leading the way when it comes to researching the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens. As scientific discoveries and exemptions continue to surface, humankind is making progress in terms of medically approved uses for hallucinogens. 

What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a category of psychedelic drugs, containing psychoactive properties. These drugs can be either synthetic or found in nature. But regardless of the origin, hallucinogens cause changes in mood, perception and cognitive abilities. For the time being, we will take a look at the active ingredient in shrooms, otherwise known as psilocybin. We will also focus on ketamine, and examine these two substances in terms of their psychotherapeutic presence in the land of Canada, both now and in the future.  Currently, psilocybin is being medically researched for it’s potential to treat addictions, depression and anxiety. However, the magic mushroom compound is not approved by Health Canada as medicinally beneficial. Ketamine too is currently under investigation as a potential option for mental health patients that have not responded to other treatments. That being said, the substance has been found to be an effective treatment for suicidal tendencies and severe depression. Although research has revealed other hallucinogens to be an effective treatment option, ketamine is the only psychedelic currently medically approved in Canada, meaning that it can be obtained legally with a prescription. Scientific experts and medical researchers have gained an interest in hallucinogenic substances such as ketamine and psilocybin, for their promising effects on mental health conditions as well as pain. These conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, anxiety and depression. If you would like to learn more about the administration, benefits, risks and effects of these substances, you can do so on the Health Canada website. 

The Hallucinogenic History of Canada

Back in the day, hallucinogens were revered for their potentially therapeutic, medicinal, and spiritual benefits. In fact, research into the properties of shrooms and other hallucinogens was being conducted around the globe long before the hippy era. In the 1940s, Sweden and Saskatchewan had already begun looking into the properties of LSD and other hallucinogens. In 1957, the term “psychedelic” was coined by Humphrey Osmond (a Saskatchewan psychiatrist).  The reason that research into psychedelics was and is so exciting, is that they potentially offer an alternative to traditional Western medicine. For mental health patients and those recovering from addiction, this could mean relief from years of psychotherapy and a slew of tablets. In the 1950s, scientists hoped that the drugs could also reduce patient’s chances of having to spend time in mental institutions, or having to undergo expensive and old-school treatment options. These included things like electroshock therapies, being isolated in a padded cell or even lobotomies.  Regardless of the cruelty involved in these ineffective methods of treatment, the techniques tainted the mental health field with taboo connotations that still hold true in this day and age. In light of the ineffective old-fashioned methods for treating mental health, hallucinogens captured the interest of researchers as potential financial and medicinal solutions. This concept was rather progressive and today, with the multi-dimensional focus on mental health, the research into psychedelics has resurfaced.  In 1951, Humphrey Osmond departed from Britain to Saskatchewan, as part of a medicinal experiment reformation conducted by Premier Tommy Douglas. Osmond began testing mescaline and LSD at Weyburn Mental Hospital. The goal of the study was to develop a model and understanding of schizophrenia while offering alcoholics the opportunity to contemplate their addiction before spiraling out of control. Together with Abram Hoffer (a psychiatrist and biochemist from Regina), the pair set out to better mental health conditions while supporting provincial health care practices. The scientist’s research into acid ultimately captured the interest of the CIA, but that is a story for another day.  As hallucinogens gained popularity, so too did drug abuse and social stigmas. With research only in its early stages, fears about exaggerated risks began to fuel a strong opposition and aversion to hallucinogens. At the same time, the hippy movement began to take off. In 1968, during the peak of controversy surrounding psychedelics, the United Nations Economic and Social Council declared hallucinogens to be a growing problem “that could have very dangerous consequences.” As a result, increased restrictions were put forward as a suggestion. 

Why Hallucinogenic Interest has Piqued in Canada

Despite legalities surrounding the use and prescription of hallucinogenic substances, the resurfacing of hallucinogens among Canada’s medicinal practitioners, scientists, public and organizations has now entered the mainstream media. This is due to a number of factors, including the international mental health crisis, the success of the weed industry, and the revival of hallucinogenic research.  In current times, mental health is in the spotlight, with society moving away from the stigmas of old. These days, society as a whole is as well-equipped as it’s ever been in terms of optimizing new mental health solutions. With millions if not billions of people suffering from mental health conditions that are resistant to treatment, it is hopeful to think that ancient spiritual practices and modern innovations could be combined to provide futuristic solutions.  The legal and social progression of weed has shown us that laws are transient, and society can change. In light of the current legalities surrounding hallucinogenic usage, we can thank the weed industry for providing encouragement and hope in terms of exemptions and new laws. But although the cannabis industry’s success is promising, it needn’t overshadow the work of hallucinogenic scientists. Keep in mind that the research is not new, and has essentially been in progress for over seventy years. As a result, we are in the midst of a psychedelic revolution, a resurgence of the hallucinogenic uprising, a re-examination of studies that were temporarily halted, criminalized or abandoned in North America. 

The Future of Hallucinogens in Canada

According to the CDSA, hallucinogens such as psilocybin are classified as Schedule III controlled substances. The categories of scheduled drugs are designed based on their potential for abuse, as well as risks posed. The most dangerous Schedule is Schedule I, and this includes the substances ketamine and MDMA.  There are numerous regulations surrounding hallucinogens in Canada, however, it seems that there may be the possibility of exemptions, a hopeful sign motivating researchers in the world of science. When it comes to psychotherapy, there are a few loopholes in terms of research. One such exemption allows approved terminally-ill participants to have psilocybin administered. Another loophole allows approved therapists, scientists, pharmacists, and psychiatrists to administer the drugs on themselves. This interesting exemption supports research into the effects of the drugs, but the drugs are still unprescribable.  In the same way that the 1940s reforms in Saskatchewan drew intellectuals from across North America in order to observe social impacts, hallucinogens are a catalyst for major change. In these ever-evolving times, we are likely to see human trials conducted on psilocybin, ketamine, and ibogaine rather soon. These trials will be focused on the therapeutic benefits of the drugs, in terms of suffering caused by conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction itself. In the meanwhile, we continue our mission to support mental health patients, through a variety of methods.

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