Founded by Bruce Tobin, TheraPsil is a non-profit coalition consisting of healthcare professionals, patients, and advocates dedicated to obtaining legal access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for terminally ill Canadians. TheraPsil’s mission includes facilitating and promoting compassionate access to psilocybin for therapeutic use, public education, professional training, and research.
Access to Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy for Canadians
At the heart of obtaining legal access to psilocybin-assisted therapy, Canadians must request an exemption from Section 56 of the Controlled Substances and Drugs Act. Patients apply directly to the Minister of Health, who is entrusted to respond to applications promptly. TheraPsil provides support to applicants as they go through the exemption request application process. The eligibility criteria for applying for a Section 56 exemption and receiving support from TheraPsil are:
- Must be at least 19 years of age, a resident of British Columbia or Ontario, and terminally ill and/or receiving palliative care.
- As a result of their diagnosis, the person is experiencing end of life psychological distress including anxiety, depression, or demoralization.
- The person is interested in trying psilocybin, they have identified a potential supplier, and are seeking legal protection and a supervised treatment program.
- The person’s psychological distress has not successfully responded to other treatments.
Public Education on Psilocybin
TheraPsil is developing an education program geared toward the public and medical professionals. They describe the program as “increasing awareness of the merits and limitations of psilocybin, and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.” The education program will include an interactive website and informative social media platforms. In pursuit of this goal, they are collaborating with public health organizations and local partners across Canada.
Professional Training in Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy
The Professional Training Committee at TheraPsil is overseeing the development of safe, engaging, and effective training programs in psilocybin-assisted therapy for credentialed healthcare professionals across Canada.
TheraPsil team members are connecting with researcher partners in Canada and around the world to disseminate and apply the knowledge gained from psilocybin clinical trials. TheraPsil’s website offers a comprehensive list of clinical research studies on the therapeutic effects of psilocybin.
Pursuing Section 56 Exemptions
In 2016, founder Bruce Tobin began writing a paper titled Communicating With Clients About Therapeutic Use Of Psychedelic Medicines, exploring legal and ethical considerations on the topic.1 He did this while navigating conversations with clients around psychedelic use, and one terminally ill cancer patient in particular who was seeking psychotherapy with him. The following year, Tobin applied for a status exemption under Section 56(1) of the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to use of psilocybin in palliative therapy for his client. Canada went on to legalize marijuana in 2018, setting a potential precedent for the psilocybin legalization process.
In 2018, Dr. Tobin and his legal team launched a legal case for psilocybin psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP). According to a Vice Canada article, Dr. Tobin spoke at a conference session called Activist Therapists: Taking Initiatives to Change Laws, saying,
I was uncomfortable about breaking the law, but I didn’t want to ignore the suffering of my patients or my ethical duty toward them. I thought if I don’t want to break the law, I better try to change the law.
The following year, Dr. Tobin founded the non-profit organization TheraPsil and continued pursuing the Section 56 exemption. In 2020, Dr. Tobin led the launch of a program to help terminally ill patients apply for a Section 56 exemption to get access to PAP (see the section above Access to Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy for Canadians).
In a press release from GlobeNewswire, Dr. Tobin stated,
Canadians with a terminal diagnosis, experiencing psychological end-of-life distress, deserve the right to try new therapies that can improve their quality of life and death. When a safe and effective therapy involves a prohibited substance, we help patients exercise their rights – to align with science and support those in need.
In August 2020, the Canadian Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, granted four patients the legal right to psilocybin PAP. Dr. Tobin accompanied his first patient, Thomas Hartle, during his session.
In an August 4, 2020 TheraPsil press release, Dr. Tobin stated,
We would like to extend our incredible gratitude to the Honorable Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, and to our government. Although it has taken a long time we are impressed with their willingness to listen to patients who have not been heard and to shift focus and policy to accommodate their interests and protect their needs. We also thank the brave Canadian patients who have been public in their fight for psilocybin access, along with the honourable Canadian MPs who have demonstrated courage, standing up for patient rights, including Marcus Powlowski, Ed Fast, Elizabeth May, Paul Manley, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Helena Jaczek, and Hedy Fry.
In an August 2020 interview with freelance writer Sam Riches, writing for the Regina Leader-Post, Dr. Tobin spoke about the current theories surrounding how PAP works,
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. 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.