Psilocybin has been making its way into mainstream media recently for its use as a legal therapeutic treatment for palliative care and being a herbalist I was intrigued as to what this treatment looks like from both a practitioner and patient standpoint.
Therapeutic Psilocybin in Canada
I recently had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with Holly Bennet, Director of Communications at TheraPsil, a non-profit patient advocacy group that helps people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness access to legal psilocybin therapy, by assisting in the application for compassionate access and personal excemption under section 56 of the drugs and substances act. Incidentally, this is the same excemption that provided patients with legal access to medicinal cannabis before legalization here in Canada. Founded by Dr. Bruce Tobin, a clinical psychologist based in Victoria, BC, TheraPsil submitted four applications in 2020, for people who were experiencing end-of-life distress to access psilocybin therapy, directly to the Minister of Health. These exemptions were granted, making it the first legal therapy since psilocybin was made illegal in 1974.
Who Chooses This Therapy?
Most patients choose this therapy to come to terms with a diagnosis and the all-consuming deep levels of grief and emotions that come with that. They want to be able to live with their without fear and anxiety of what may come, or as one patient described a ‘black cloud over their head’. The treatment itself runs over 5-7 sessions starting with around 3 pre-integration sessions that set the intention and wanted outcomes of the treatment.
They want to be able to live with their without fear and anxiety of what may come, or as one patient described a ‘black cloud over their head’.
Creating a Meaningful Experience with Psilocybin
I was curious about how a practitioner could go about creating a meaningful experience with psilocybin being that the process is very much internal, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that most of the practitioner’s involvement is in the intention setting and integration sessions. The medicine session itself is very much hands-off, something the TheraPsil folks describe as ‘doing not doing’. The patient takes their dose, what’s known as a ‘hero dose’ of 3-7g which can be taken all at once or throughout the treatment session itself. The patient puts on eyeshades and listens to a curated playlist (compiled by John Hopkins University in their psilocybin studies) which features various classical tracks, The Beatles Here Comes the Sun and ends with What a Wonderful World. For those interested, you can find the playlist here.
The patient puts on eyeshades and listens to a curated playlist (compiled by John Hopkins University in their psilocybin studies) which features various classical tracks, The Beatles Here Comes the Sun and ends with What a Wonderful World.
The role of the practitioner during this session is to keep the patient safe and provide comforts such as blankets or water, and only when asked. The TheraPsil therapists recognize that setting, safety and environment are key to being able to fully look inside and create a meaningful healing experience. The mushrooms are left to lead the patient through their own journey of working through the grief and emotions of their terminal diagnosis. Any physical or mental side-effects that psilocybin mushrooms can bring, such as nausea or anxiety, are treated as part of the process and patients are asked to push through these in order to not interfere with the medicine.
What Happens Post-Treatment?
The treatment doesn’t end here and after this session, the patient works with the therapist to unpack, process and integrate what came up for them in their medicine session. Here the therapist helps to create meaning out of the experience to ‘carry the embers forward for lasting healing’.
After treatment, patients reported that they were better able to manage anxiety, especially their worries over what the future may hold. They also reported feeling like they had more control – that their illness doesn’t dominate their life.
After treatment, patients reported that they were better able to manage anxiety, especially their worries over what the future may hold.
Psilocybin Treatment Reduces Anxiety For Months
What is also interesting is that patients didn’t only encounter this reduced anxiety for a few days following treatment, but for months after. This experience doesn’t appear to be a one-off and a study by Charles Grob, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center where he gave psilocybin to terminal cancer patients to see if it could reduce their fear of death, has a similar outcome. Overall he found that the patients “scores on the anxiety scale at one and three months after treatment demonstrated a sustained reduction in anxiety. They also found that their subjects’ scores on the Beck Depression Inventory dropped significantly at the six-month follow-up.”
So what is it about psychedelic treatment that appears to patients give a sense of peace about their mortality that lasts for months after their therapy? After Charles Grob’s study he acknowledged that “It’s a bit of a mystery, I don’t really have altogether a definitive answer as to why the drug eases the fear of death, but we do know that from time immemorial individuals who have transformative spiritual experiences come to a very different view of themselves and the world around them and thus are able to handle their own deaths differently.”
Curious About the Therapeutic Benefits of Psilocybin?
This deeply powerful healing is still in its early stages of studies (legally at least) and TheraPsil are currently advocating the Health Minister for practitioners to have access to legal psilocybin for training purposes and are currently creating a unique experiential training program for healthcare practitioners to be able to treat patients with psilocybin. You can find out more about their work, their upcoming training program and read patient testimonials here.
For a deeper dive into psilocybin and its effects on mental health, join us for our Microdosing for Mental Health Intensive, exclusively in the Wild Rose Herbal Village, starting November 8, 2020. Join Now.