A company with a lab in Nanaimo has federal government approval to manage research intended to standardize extraction of a psychedelic compound, psilocybin, from magic mushrooms. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

A company with a lab in Nanaimo has federal government approval to manage research intended to standardize extraction of a psychedelic compound, psilocybin, from magic mushrooms. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Experts favour use of magic mushroom derivatives for research into mental health treatment

Educators, researchers see value in studying psilocybin’s effect treating mental health and addiction

Research utilizing magic mushroom derivatives has potential to help those suffering from mental health and addiction issues, say experts.

Numinus Wellness Inc., which has a facility in Nanaimo, recently cultivated its first harvest of magic mushrooms for research purposes via a Health Canada licence.

Health Canada says no studies have been conducted on the long-term effects of magic mushrooms, containing hallucinogens such as psilocybin and psilocin, which the body converts psilocybin into.Short-term effects can include heightened emotions and a sense of mental and emotional clarity. Hallucinations, panic attacks, facial numbness, increased heart rate and loss of urinary control are other effects, according to Health Canada.

Mark Haden, executive director of non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada and adjunct professor of population and public health at UBC, said most of the research is being conducted for “end-of-life anxiety, depression, addiction issues and anxiety issues.”

RELATED: Greater Victoria non-profit advocates for the use of psilocybin for terminal patients

RELATED: Magic mushrooms to treat mental illness? Nanaimo lab studying the possibilities

Elliott Marchant, a neuroscientist and Vancouver Island University psychology professor, said the only completed clinical trials using psilocybin have been for treating people who were about to die from a terminal disease. The drug alleviated many of their fears and provide some respite, he said.

Studies have been “small-scale” so far, said Haden, and while definitive statements can’t be made on psilocybin’s effectiveness, a 2014 Johns Hopkins University study on people looking to quit smoking saw 12 out of 15 participants “abstinent after the experience,” something that was “unparalleled” as no one has ever demonstrated smoking cessation that effective.

It offers people a different perspective, he said, and the positive outcome is “highly correlated to the degree to which the individual has a mystical experience.”

“There’s a thing called the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, the MEQ, and the higher people score on [it], the more likely it is that they’ll have a positive outcome on the treatment effect that’s being measured,” said Haden. “So that tells us a lot. It’s really about if you go off and meet your maker and you have a spiritual experience and you understand the universe is boundless and that you are just one with everything, then that actually can help when you’re looking at the tiny little human being who’s having trouble stopping smoking.

“It brings a larger perspective to the challenge that you’re struggling with.”

Clinical trials for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD are also underway and several other studies have already shown positive results, Marchant said.

“Currently there are more than 55 clinical trials underway, with many focused on anxiety and depression. I believe that it can create a sense of de-personalization, and it allows people with PTSD to examine their trauma from a position of safety,” said Marchant. “It’s probably similar to what therapists try to create. Psilocin, or psilocybin, can help with that.”

Shannon Dames, a VIU nursing program professor and researcher, said her work involves ketamine as psilocybin is only legal for “compassionate exemptions for end-of-life care” and clinical trials.

For treatment-resistant depression and PTSD, psychedelic drugs like ketamine and psilocybin are “the best tools we have right now,” for research on mental health disorders, Dames said, adding that “status quo treatments” are only working for 20 per cent of those suffering from these mental health conditions.

“The research is showing us that we have access to other medicines that have much higher effectiveness, so us using these psychedelic medicines are actually the most research-informed strategy we have to address mental health conditions right now, including the aging brain,” said Dames.

“Dementia is exactly where we’re moving next, which is good news for the older generations. Because of the neurological repair and how it promotes connection between the right and left hemisphere, there are all sorts of neurological potentials. We are seeing benefits across the board on mental health conditions.”

Dr. Evan Wood, chief medical officer for Numinus Wellness Inc., said in the research trial context and in Mexico, where they are used as a traditional medicine, psilocybin and other psychedelics have proven safe. However, there could be negative effects for people who consume magic mushrooms recreationally, or obtain them via the underground market, he said.

“Certainly people can have negative psychological experiences … the biggest health issues would be someone having a negative psychological reaction, like a ‘bad trip,’ or drug-impaired driving, or things like that would be the biggest risks,” said Wood.

RELATED: Island woman’s magic mushroom trauma treatment could be trendsetting

RELATED: Canada approves psilocybin for compassionate use in four patients

Marchant warns about the misconception that magic mushrooms are safe, which isn’t the case. If you get the wrong mushroom, it can kill you, he said.

“People get that a little bit mixed up … psilocybin is a psychoactive drug and so just because it’s in a mushroom growing on the ground doesn’t mean it’s safe,” said Marchant. “Cocaine and morphine are from plants, but you wouldn’t say they’re safe either.”

There are challenges when dealing with someone who has taken a psychedelic drug, such as psilocybin, for therapy, said Haden.

“It can be a very intense experience,” said Haden. “It depends what people are taking it for, but if you’re taking it for trauma, for example, part of the process of healing is going to that place of trauma and, to some extent, reliving it and so that can be really difficult. If you’re sitting there dealing with somebody who’s been traumatized and they go to the place of trauma, it kind of takes psychotherapy and it collapses 10 years into three sessions.”

Michael Tan, chief operating officer for Numinus Wellness Inc., said its controlled drugs and substance-use licence allows the company to test and conduct research on several psychedelic substances, including psilocybin, and the drug is only one part of the protocol Numinus is looking to develop and support. A lot of research and development will be required, he said.

“It goes together with an integrated therapeutic approach, so there’s talk therapy before, during and after and the administration of this substance in between one to three doses,” said Tan. “The drug is not the end goal. Of course, the end goal is to address mental illness with curative intent, through psychotherapy supported by the psychedelics.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


Like us on Facebook and follow Karl on Twitter and Instagram

mental health

Just Posted

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits Nanoose Bay property

Experts say interesting look may simply be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

A Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation guardian took this photo of dozens of vehicles parked along a forest service road in the Kennedy watershed. (Submitted photo)
Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District looks at enforcement of illegal camping

ACRD currently does not have an existing bylaw service to tackle the issue

West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni received some good news about an expansion to its emergency department on Jan. 15, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

Smaller egg farmers find themselves in a David and Goliath situation when it comes to major producers and chain-grocery store shelf space. (Citizen file)
Vancouver Island egg producer cries foul over ‘Island’ label

Egg farmer frustrated with regulations allowing mainland-laid eggs to be labelled ‘Island’

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Johnathan Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to eight charges including sex-related offences against children and accessing, possessing and making or publishing child pornography. (Courtesy of Saanich Police)
Sentencing date moved for Saanich nanny guilty of child porn charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to eight sex offences against children

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Most Read