Article by Sam Riches, Regina Leader-Post
On the night that Thomas Hartle became the first Canadian to legally consume psilocybin for medical purposes, Dr. Bruce Tobin, a psychotherapist and professor at the University of Victoria, shared a cab with filmmaker Randall “Peg” Peters.
The two men, along with John Simpson, a hospice companion and sitter, had spent the day with Hartle as he went through his first therapeutic dosing experience in the guest bedroom of his Saskatoon home.
Peters wasn’t sure if what had transpired over the previous six hours was a success. In the cab, he expressed his concerns to Dr. Tobin that perhaps Hartle hadn’t benefited in any significant way, but the doctor reassured him. “It’s like good tea,” he said. “You just need to let it steep.”
That night, back at the Hartle household, Hartle enjoyed the best sleep he’s had since receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis four years ago. In the week that has passed since that dose, Hartle hasn’t had a single anxiety attack, he said, a personal record.
“I have had anxiety for so long, I had sort of forgotten what it feels like to not have it,” Hartle said during a webinar Thursday evening, speaking publicly about his experience for the first time. “To experience the lack of anxiety I have had this week is beyond words. It’s amazing. I have no idea how long this particular benefit will last, but so long as it’s here, it’s really, really amazing and good.”
Hartle, a father of two and an IT professional of 25 years, had never taken psilocybin — a psychedelic drug derived from magic mushrooms — in his life. He previously told The GrowthOp that he was interested in pursuing psilocybin therapy as a means to address the existential anxiety that accompanies living with a terminal diagnosis, something that traditional anti-anxiety medications don’t treat.
Hartle went through several preparatory sessions before consuming the dose, to best learn how the process would work and to form a relationship with the doctors and those involved. “Before this experience, I had some ideas about what I thought I would get out of this, but the actual feelings and experience of it are so much better,” he said during the webinar.
“I would highly recommend that Canadians consider it as an option. The psilocybin, for me, was very gentle and effective. Even if I didn’t have any more effects tomorrow, I would feel very comfortable having another session to boost it back up, and, worst case, that would still be only a single dose once a week — there isn’t any other medication out there that has that sort of efficacy.” Earlier this month, four Canadians received Section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing them to pursue psilocybin therapy for end-of-life distress. The exemptions were granted by federal health minister Patty Hajdu, and the applications were completed with the help of TheraPsil, a B.C.-based, non-profit organization founded by Dr. Tobin and made up of a coalition of healthcare professions, researchers, advocates and policymakers.
For Dr. Tobin, Hartle’s experience is in line with research about the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics from institutions such as John Hopkins, Yale University and the University of Toronto. Multiple studies indicate that psilocybin can lead to significant and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
“A fundamental dynamic in this healing potential of psilocybin is that it allows our ego self to temporarily relax the grip of our negative and pain-producing belief systems, to relax and let go of that grip on our sense of who we are and what’s really important and what living is all about,” Dr. Tobin said. “With this relaxation of old habits of thinking, new perspectives and attitudes and assumptions are possible, leading to new possibilities for being in the world with our disease.”
Even with the four exemptions that have been granted, psilocybin remains a restricted medicine, making it illegal for doctors to use psilocybin as part of their training. Dr. Tobin emphasized that needs to change and that the organization will be working hard in the months ahead to fight for therapists to have legal access to psilocybin for training purposes.
“That (restriction) doesn’t really make any sense to any of us,” Dr. Tobin said during the webinar. “Imagine what it would be like to go to a sex therapist who you know has never had sex.”
Within the next few years, Dr. Tobin said he expects that “the face of Canadian psychiatry and clinical psychology is going to be transformed by these psychedelic medicines.” The organization is encouraging interested Canadians who believe they might benefit from psilocybin therapy to contact them.