This Week in Psychedelics: One shroom to rule them all, Canadian practitioners to be denied psilocybin access, and chronic pain relief
Happy Friday, and welcome back to The Microdose. Some highlights from the week:
One shroom to rule them all. When Oregon voters passed Measure 109 in November 2020, the Oregon Health Authority was mandated to develop rules and regulations around the manufacture and sales of psilocybin and psilocybin services. That process will end in December 2022. Meanwhile, Oregon Psilocybin Services — a section created by the Oregon Health Authority — released several new documents this week. The group has posted the Psilocybin Advisory Board’s draft rules on how people administering psilocybin services will be trained, how psilocybin products will be tested, and what kinds of psilocybin products will be permissible.
There are a few big takeaways about what kinds of products will be permitted in Oregon. First, the drafted rules for psilocybin products allow products cultivated from only one species of mushroom — Psilocybe cubensis. Given that there are dozens of species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin, this is an interesting turn, and one that the draft rules don’t explain. The rules also explicitly prohibit synthetic psilocybin, which will make it more difficult for pharmaceutical companies to dominate the market with proprietary synthetic psilocybin compounds.
Additionally, the draft rules only allow Psilocybe cubensis and products made from it to be administered orally by practitioners; the document explicitly prohibits “psilocybin products designed to be delivered to clients through any method other than orally, including but not limited to, transdermal patches, inhalers, nasal sprays, suppositories and injections.”
Later this month, the Oregon Health Authority’s Rule Advisory Committees will meet to talk about these drafted regulations. The meetings are open to the public via Zoom, but the public will only be able to comment on the proposed rules during a comment period in April.
Access to psilocybin in Canada. Psilocybin remains an illegal drug in Canada, but Health Canada has begun granting access to patients seeking psilocybin-assisted therapy. In December 2020, nineteen clinicians were also granted permission to use psilocybin as part of their training program with TheraPsil, a psilocybin advocacy group. The program has around 150 trainees in total, and the other 130+ practitioners have sought access as well through applications to Health Canada. But last week, TheraPsil received a letter from Health Canada indicating their intent to deny additional access to psilocybin for practitioners training through TheraPsil’s program. According to the group’s CEO, Spencer Hawkswell, one reason the government gave for that denial is that Canada will approve an alternate means of access, a clinical trial, in the next six months. But, Hawkswell says, that trial is set to include only 20 participants: not enough slots to accommodate TheraPsil’s trainees, let alone the thousand-plus patients on TheraPsil’s waitlist for psilocybin therapy.
The decision might have also been influenced by new political appointments in Canada. When those 19 practitioners were granted access in 2020, Patty Hajdu was Canada’s minister of health — in October 2021, Jean-Yves Duclos was appointed as her successor. Duclos has continued to grant exemptions for patients with mental health issues, but none for practitioners. “We’ve essentially got to convince a new minister,” says Hawkswell.
Health Canada’s letter gave practitioners 14 days to respond, and Yasmeen Sadain, TheraPsil’s director of training and operation, says 50 practitioners have already replied. Should Health Canada officially deny these requests, TheraPsil says they are ready to take legal action.
There has never been a more exciting – or bewildering – time in the world of psychedelics. Don’t miss a beat.
Chronic pain relief. Psychedelics have been studied closely as a potential treatment for mental health issues — but there’s a growing area of research investigating whether they could be used to treat pain, too. In a piece for VICE, journalist Mattha Busby reports on the use of psilocybin therapy for cluster headaches, and whether LSD might ease chronic pain or fibromyalgia symptoms. “Chronic pain is the greatest clinical problem in the UK behind depression,” one researcher tells Busby. Current treatments have been ineffective, and sometimes fatally addictive. The research is still in its early days, but scientists, patients, and advocates are hopeful that psychedelics could be part of an effective treatment for those in pain.
Trends to watch. Psychedelics company Psilocybin Alpha put up a list of trends we might see in the psychedelics sector in 2022 — and its first prediction highlights the same possibility the VICE article focused on: using psychedelics to treat conditions like chronic pain. It also mentions the growing interest in psychedelic-assisted treatments for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Another growing sector to watch: insurance coverage of psychedelic therapy. In the U.S., many people are unable to access general medical treatment and therapy due to inadequate insurance coverage and difficulties with navigating a healthcare system in which costs of treatment are opaque. Many practitioners, lawmakers, and advocacy groups are concerned about equitable access to psychedelic-assisted treatments if costs are prohibitive and not covered by insurance.
On the verge of getting a divorce, the couple at the center of a New York Times piece tries one last thing to save their marriage: an MDMA couples retreat in Utah. The article details the risks of MDMA use — the possibility of unpleasant side effects like nausea and panic attacks, and the possibility of taking MDMA laced with other drugs — but describes how an MDMA experience brought this couple back together. According to the Times, “there is only one published study in which couples received MDMA-assisted therapy in a clinical setting.” It showed promise — but it will be years until more studies are approved and completed, and in the meantime, underground treatment and recreational use by curious couples will likely continue.
In a new book called Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, author Florence Williams weaves together the story of her painful divorce and the science of heartbreak. In an NPR interview this week, Williams told Terry Gross that part of her journey through heartbreak included psychedelic therapy. Afterward, she says, “my emotions were less acute, and I felt like I was ready to be on my own.”
If you’re a fan of Wordle, Psilocybin Alpha has started posting daily psychedelic-themed Wordles on its Twitter feed:
You’re all caught up! Have a great weekend, and stay tuned on Monday for 5 Questions, our weekly Q&A with a leader in the psychedelics space.
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