Investment in psilocybin research needed: Prof
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WINNIPEG — More scientific research has been called for into medical use of so-called magic mushrooms — and University of Manitoba Prof. Lynda Balneaves is one of the Canadian researchers trying to answer those questions.
“I think we need to remain non-judgmental, try to remove the stigma from it, be open to the potential,” Balneaves said.
“We need more research, we need more funding for it and we need more education, just to ensure that the Canadian public is kept safe and they’re using this appropriately for any health conditions that they may be interested in using it for.”
Balneaves, a registered nurse who holds a PhD and has a background in medicinal cannabis research and cancer care, said Wednesday research interest in psilocybin — a psychedelic component of magic mushrooms — has grown over the past couple of years.
Already, a handful of Manitobans going through end-stage cancer treatment have received authorization from Health Canada to use psilocybin.
However, it’s becoming harder to get such authorization in recent months, Balneaves said, because Health Canada has cited a lack of evidence for medical use of magic mushrooms and has begun sponsoring Canadian research.
As part of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, Balneaves is trying to secure funding to start a clinical trial across Canada that would have cancer patients take varying levels of psilocybin. The research would involve comparing the effectiveness of the dosages, incorporating mindfulness therapy and training staff at cancer care centres to administer psychedelic therapy through an accredited program, and “seeing how people are managing their existential distress.”
Balneaves said she’s hopeful the trial can get started relatively quickly once it’s funded, because she already has buy-in from cancer care centres across the country. “We just need to come up with some funding, but there is great interest in it.”
On May 19, Winnipeg’s first recreational magic mushroom dispensary was raided by police and shut down.
While seeing growing potential for use of the drug to help patients nearing the end of their lives and those struggling with addictions to other substances, Balneaves said she’s hesitant about “moving rapidly into a recreational market.”
After non-medical cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, research dollars dried up for studies that aimed to gather evidence about its medical use. It became much more difficult for researchers to partner with manufacturers and secure high-quality supply of the drug for research use, she said.
“I would hate to have something similar happen around psychedelics. I really think we need to first focus on its potential effects and its use therapeutically, ensuring that we focus on the development of medical grade psychedelics before we run down the route of recreational (markets),” Balneaves said.
On Wednesday, during a stop in Winnipeg, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked to respond to perceptions of a lack of consistency on regulation of magic mushroom dispensaries in Canada.
Although the substance is illegal, shops have opened in larger cities in Ontario and B.C.
Within six days of its opening in Osborne Village, the Magic Mush store was raided by Winnipeg police and two people were arrested. A lawyer for the Ontario-based shop owners didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
“There’s always going to be a certain amount of variety on many issues across the country, and that allows provincial governments to respond to local priorities and local needs. When it comes to the criminal code, the criminal code is the same right across the country, and that’s what the government will continue to ensure,” Trudeau said.
» Winnipeg Free Press