Federal Court ruling sets back health workers seeking psilocybin mushroom access
Megan McLaren thought her future career was in law enforcement, but her path radically shifted thanks in part to psychedelic drug therapy, she says.
McLaren left a civilian position with the Vancouver Police Department in 2019 for a job in counselling with the Surrey School District and is now a registered clinical counsellor with a practice in Squamish, B.C.
When the pandemic hit and her position was cut from the school district, she began researching psychedelics, eventually signing up for a three-month group therapy program involving the use of ketamine in mid-2021.
McLaren said she was suffering from depression and grief after the death of her mother, and while she came out of the experience still grieving, she was no longer depressed.
Now, she and dozens of other health care professionals across the country are fighting the federal government in court for legal access to psychedelics, namely psilocybin mushrooms, in order to offer such therapeutic treatments in their practices.
Before they can offer patients these drug-assisted therapies though, doctors, psychologists, counsellors, and nurses want a special exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The exemption would allow them to take magic mushrooms themselves in “experiential training” before they're qualified to offer the treatments to patients.
“We've got people in Canada right now who are being approved for medical assistance in dying, and those same people are being unapproved for taking mushrooms,” McLaren said in an interview.
“We're in a little bit of a backwards moment when Canada is more willing to end people's lives than to give them a chance of surviving or dying with dignity, dying with less anxiety.”
McLaren is part of a group of more than 60 other health care professionals that applied this month to the Federal Court of Canada to overturn a decision denying them the needed exemptions.
A ruling in a nearly identical case filed in 2022 involving almost 100 other health care professionals was dismissed on Sept. 25 by a Federal Court judge who upheld the decision denying them the exemptions.
The judge found “there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate a need for, or benefit of, experiential training with psilocybin.”
“The evidence does not establish that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy by an experientially trained practitioner is safer and more effective, and the decisions do not prevent patients from accessing psilocybin under their own exemption or accessing psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy,” the ruling says.
Ottawa-based human rights lawyer Nicholas Pope said Friday that he'll be appealing the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary.
He said he's confident that case law and precedents are on the side of both patients and health care workers seeking legal access to psilocybin mushrooms.
Pope said it's a “unique situation” where case law related to pre-legalization cannabis litigation set the stage for legal battles involving mushrooms now.
“Here we have a safer substance, a substance that there's more evidence for its efficacy and we have two decades of law (established) that says people have a right to access this, so it's just a matter of time before we get these cases before the right courts,” he said.
Pope said it is an “absurd situation” where anyone can easily access psilocybin mushrooms from illegal dispensaries that have popped up across the country, while people with “serious and pressing medical issues and health concerns” are fighting for legal access.
“That's why I've been taking on a lot of these cases and doing them pro bono because this is just something that needs to change,” he said.
Pope said a lawsuit filed on behalf of several patients in July 2022 is the most pivotal, challenging Canada's prohibition on psilocybin as unconstitutional.
“That's sort of the big glacial pace action that seeks to strike down the whole system,” he said.
Thomas Hartle, one of eight plaintiffs in that case, said in an interview in August that access to mushrooms isn't necessarily the problem, but rather access to qualified therapists who can administer the treatment.
Diagnosed with colon cancer eight years ago, Hartle was one of the first people in the country allowed to consume mushrooms legally under what's known as the special access program, but he had to fly to B.C. from his home in Saskatchewan to undergo the treatment.
Travelling anywhere is both physically and financially draining, he said, but with no qualified psilocybin therapists closer to home, he's had to spend thousands on travel, food and accommodations to receive the therapy out of province.
Hartle said Friday that his stage four cancer is still progressing, but mushroom therapy sessions have been effective in lightening the end-of-life anxiety associated with it.
He said the lawsuit moves “like a glacier,” as he grapples with an uncertain future.
“I do kind of these days feel like the legal case will probably outlive me,” he said. “I am not at this time anticipating seeing a resolution to that. I would really like to, but the pace that things are going I don't think that is a realistic expectation for me.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023.
The Shopping Trends team is independent of the journalists at CTV News. We may earn a commission when you use our links to shop. Read about us.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is pushing for MPs to call on senators to 'immediately' pass a bill that would exempt certain farm fuels from the carbon price.
The Chicago Blackhawks said Corey Perry engaged in unacceptable conduct and took a step Tuesday toward terminating his contract, the latest twist involving the veteran winger who was mysteriously scratched and sent home last week without explanation.
Short-term rental tax changes left out of Freeland's bill to implement fiscal update measures, here's why
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will be tabling an omnibus bill to pass measures she promised in last week's fall economic statement. Missing from the package are the government's promised plans to crack down on short-term rentals, while the Liberal promise to double the carbon tax rural rebate top-up, is included.
Adoption requests came from as far away as New Zealand, but Frank the Tank, a 17-kilogram tortoise found wandering in a Richmond bok choy field last month, will be staying in British Columbia.
French authorities arrested the leader of a multinational tantric yoga organization Tuesday on suspicion of indoctrinating female followers for sexual exploitation.
In a column for CTVNews.ca, personal finance writer Christopher Liew tackles 'quiet hiring' -- a term referring to companies that quietly hire from their own talent pool rather than look elsewhere -- and outlines some tips for employees on how to take advantage of the practice.
A customer has filed a lawsuit against the fast casual chain Chopt over a salad that she says contained a piece of the manager's finger.
Alex Murdaugh sentenced to 27 years for financial fraud after victims angrily confront him in court By Jeffrey Collins
For years, South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh looked his anguished clients in the eyes and promised to help them with their medical bills, their suffering or simply to survive. Then he stole most, if not all, of what he won for many of them.
The first commercial airliner to cross the Atlantic on a purely high-fat, low-emissions fuel flew Tuesday from London to New York in a step toward achieving what supporters called 'jet zero.'
Animal welfare workers in British Columbia will be recommending animal cruelty charges after 44 neglected dogs and cats were seized from a derelict and garbage-filled home on a small, southern Gulf Island near Nanaimo.
The Vancouver Canucks might be having a winning season, but when Stacey Donison heard her husband shouting joyfully from the kitchen, it had nothing to do with the hockey game he was watching.
A fog advisory was reissued for much of B.C.’s South Coast and Vancouver Island Tuesday afternoon, with Environment Canada warning of "near-zero visibility" throughout the region.
A man convicted of manslaughter for his role in the death of a Calgary police officer almost three years ago has been granted full parole.
Calgary police say speed and alcohol are being investigated as factors in a Monday crash that killed one person.
The city will be closing a large section of the popular Douglas Fir Trail in Edworthy Park.
A group in Westlock, Alta., is trying to ban crosswalks painted in rainbow colours and other symbols.
Edmonton school boards welcome temporary change to funding formula, but want permanent fix for growing populations
The Alberta government announced on Tuesday $30 million more for schools, which some say isn't enough to keep up with the growth they're undergoing.
Property tax bills won't be as high as initially feared – thanks to some modest hacking and slashing by city councillors – but Edmontonians will still have to pay more next year.
Toronto police have released photos of a suspect who allegedly impersonated customers at wireless stores and banks in order to steal from them.
Torontonians might pay more for water and waste collection next year. Here's how much it could cost us
Torontonians may have to pay more for services like water and garbage collection next year.
A woman suffered burns after a fire broke out at an encampment in the city’s Fort York neighbourhood Tuesday evening.
Thousands of Quebecers are gathering at Montreal's Bell Centre to pay tribute to folk-rock singer Karl Tremblay, whose band Les Cowboys Fringants has been a beloved fixture of the province's music scene for more than two decades.
As Quebec's Common Front of public sector unions announced a weeklong strike will happen next week, one Montreal parent is worried about her special needs son being held back in a crucial school year.
Flanked by students at Quebec's National Assembly, Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy presented a landmark petition to stop the government from doubling tuition rates for out-of-province students.
A Manitoba doctor has been found guilty of sexually assaulting five of his former female patients during medical appointments.
A police shooting near Pembina Highway on Tuesday morning has left one man dead.
CN Rail has launched a lawsuit against a group of pro-Palestine protesters who set up an hours-long blockade on train tracks in Winnipeg.
A retired Saskatoon couple says they're being forced to scale back Christmas after they received a bill from SaskPower for almost ten times more than usual.
City councillors approved an $8 million increase in spending next year for the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS).
Saskatoon police responded to an unusual call where they were confronted with an escaped cow.
An emergency alert concerning drinking water in Maple Creek sent to phones across Saskatchewan Tuesday afternoon was a mistake.
A Saskatchewan labour arbitrator has ordered a Regina-based company to reinstate two employees who were fired for refusing to follow its COVID-19 policy.
Many filmmakers across the province were celebrated over the weekend at the 10th annual Saskatchewan Independent Film Awards (SFIA).
The city of Halifax held it’s first budget meeting Tuesday after staff recommended a property tax increase of 9.7 per cent to make up for a revenue shortfall of $68.7 million dollars.
Two people have been arrested in connection to alleged incidents of arson at several cottages in Prince Edward Island over the weekend.
Newfoundland and Labrador's police watchdog agency says it has charged an RCMP officer with assault.
London’s cold weather strategy was never going to bring everyone experiencing homelessness inside this winter— but a political push almost cut the number of overnight spaces by more than half.
An Ornge air ambulance carried an injured student to a London, Ont. hospital after a school bus slid into a ditch and crashed into a driveway near Wingham, Ont. Tuesday morning, injuring three of the seven students on board.
The Crown completed its case at the second-degree murder trial of 42-year-old Robert Charnock Tuesday at the London, Ont. courthouse after calling a doctor from the St. Thomas psychiatric hospital.
Acting on behalf of another government agency, Ontario Provincial Police in Blind River, Ont., found weapons and drugs while doing a wellness check on children.
Security video released from inside a holding cell in Orillia in 2019 shows the interaction between an officer and a woman accused of intoxication that resulted in an assault conviction for the eight-year OPP veteran.
Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police has received an alert from the Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund about a new fraud targeting its members.
There was a rescue in Kitchener, Ont. after a pig somehow got loose on a busy highway.
The eastbound lanes of Highway 403 between Brantford and Highway 52 just outside Hamilton were closed for at least four hours Tuesday after a series of crashes police say were caused by whiteout conditions.
A Waterloo pet store is asking for the public’s help after someone stole a 10-week-old kitten named Crosby.