Rebecca Crewe had mixed emotions the day she dropped her partner Tony White off at the ATMA Urban Journey Clinic in Calgary to undergo a psychedelic treatment that uses psilocybin, the “magical” ingredient found in some species of mushrooms.
She was nervous and more than a bit skeptical. Little was known about the experimental treatment that has only recently been made available to patients in Canada with terminal illnesses. But White, who was dying of Stage 4 cancer, was adamant. He was so doped up on pharmaceuticals (including fentanyl, oxycontin, hydromorphine, medicinal cannabis) that his quality of life was non-existent. Even with all the drugs he could still barely walk. “Tony felt he had nothing to lose,” Crewe says.
When she returned to pick him up after his five-hour treatment the changes she saw left her stunned. White was smiling, joking with his psychiatrist and staff. And, most shocking, he was bending down, walking around and moving with a fluidity she had not seen in months.
“He told me he couldn’t really describe what happened,” Crewe says. “All he knew was that he worked some things out and felt at peace. I wish some doctor could explain it.”
For the past few years, researchers at academic institutions such as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., Imperial College London and New York University have been trying to do exactly that. They have been studying how psilocybin – a hallucinogen that works by activating serotonin receptors in the brain – affects mood, cognition and perception. So far, it shows promise in helping to alleviate a number of serious mental-health disorders, including acute depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse.
“It’s still very early stages, but we believe psilocybin treatments can truly be an aid in helping society cope with the mental-health crisis,” says David Harder, chief executive officer of ATMA Journey Centers. “The medicine is not a panacea that will magically heal humanity, but in the right settings, these molecules can open our minds to changing our perspective on those things that hold us back.
“They can help us see our own self-limiting beliefs, trauma-related mental-health struggles, and relational tensions that bring us pain,” Harder says. “They truly are a paradigm shift in treatment, where rather than a pill you take for the rest of your life, it is a shift in perspective through one or two treatments that can change our view of reality, and bring about a life of purpose and joy.”
Within the past five years, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has steadily granted breakthrough therapy status to drugs that were banned in the 1970s and 1980s, including MDMA (also known as ecstasy and molly), ketamine and psilocybin. In November, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, following in the footsteps of cities such as Denver, and California’s Oakland and Santa Cruz.
Currently, Health Canada has only approved psilocybin treatment for people in palliative care. However, a growing number of private companies (startups such as Numinus Wellness, Doseology Sciences and HAVN Life Sciences, all in British Columbia) and academic institutions (University of Toronto and University of British Columbia) are trying to convince government regulators that more money and time should be invested in researching how psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy might be used to unlock some of the mysteries of the human brain.
Dr. Evan Wood, chief medical officer at Numinus on Vancouver Island, says the societal costs of mental illness, addiction and trauma are much too high to ignore the potential breakthroughs that might be possible with psychedelic treatments. “With one in five Canadians currently grappling with debilitating mental-health conditions, we can’t afford not to look at psilocybin seriously,” Wood says, adding that mental illness is projected to cost the global economy US$16-trillion by 2030, according to a recent Lancet Commission report.
At Numinus, where they extract psychoactive compounds from plants and fungi, Wood says they are working toward a psilocybin-assisted therapy trial for patients with substance abuse disorders, as well as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
“There is a part of our brain called the default mode network that essentially enables us to function in our environment by decluttering the stimuli around us and quieting all the information coming into our senses. In depressed patients, and those with PTSD or substance abuse disorders, the default mode network is more active,” says Wood, a professor of medicine at UBC where he helps lead the university’s efforts in the area of addiction prevention and treatment.
“A session with psilocybin seems to disrupt this network, reset it and decrease its activity, thus alleviating the symptoms. The changes it appears to be bringing about with people are really profound. It gets at the root of what’s driving people to these mental disorders. Instead of giving them chemicals that numb those feelings, these treatments help you put that trauma behind you.”
Ronan Levy, co-founder of Field Trip Health, which operates eight psychedelic therapy centres in the world including two in Canada (Toronto and Fredericton; a third will open in Vancouver by the end of 2021) says demand in the last year has been robust. While in Canada they can only provide ketamine therapies at present, he expects both the Federal Drug Administration and Health Canada will approve psilocybin therapies in the next few years.
“I anticipate psychedelic-assisted therapies will rapidly become one of the most important treatment options for most commonly diagnosed mental-health conditions,” Levy says. “The evidence to their efficacy and safety is profound.”
This work is going on while all things fungi are experiencing a curious renaissance. The global mushroom market, excluding psilocybin mushrooms, is expected to be worth more than US$50-billion by 2025, according to the San Francisco-based market research firm Grand View Research. Mushrooms are showing up everywhere in the wellness sector, in coffees, teas, face serums, body lotions and supplements that claim to boost immunity, ease inflammation, improve cognition and relieve stress.
Dr. David Mokler, professor emeritus of pharmacology at the University of New England and an adviser to HAVN Life, says public demand for plant-based medicines is the catalyst driving some governments to slowly start lifting restrictions on psilocybin-based treatments.
“Depression is a life-threatening disorder. PTSD as well. Anxiety causes huge disruptions in people’s lives,” says Mokler, a specialist in neuropharmacology. “Drugs only benefit 40 to 60 per cent of patients with these disorders and there are still a significant portion of patients they have no impact on at all. If we can give them a drug safely like psilocybin, and it eases their suffering, which we’ve seen in many studies, then I am very excited about that. However, there is still so much we don’t know so it’s prudent to move forward with caution.”
Canada is taking baby steps toward allowing even limited use of psychedelic mushrooms – an approach that Dr. Pierre Blier, director of mood disorder research at the University of Ottawa, believes is wise. “The research done to date – by very reputable people in a very serious manner – is, however, still in very early stages.”
He warns that people need to be cautious. “Phase 3 trials are under way, but until we have blind proof of efficacy I would not recommend these treatments to my patients,” Blier says. “The danger is that people hear about these treatments and go buy mushrooms from illicit sources. Some mushrooms are toxic and I fear for their safety.”
For some people suffering from debilitating physical and mental illnesses, waiting is no longer an option. At the ATMA Urban Journey Centre, which opened last January, they have treated three clients so far, with three more in pretreatment psychotherapy.
White died 19 days after his appointment on Jan. 20, 2021, at the age of 46. However, the quality of life he enjoyed in his final days was a gift that Crewe believes all palliative patients should have access to.
“You have to understand how sick he was,” she says. “The day before Tony went into the centre he had a 50 milligram fentanyl patch on his arm and had to take eight bumps of the opioid to keep the pain at bay. After taking the mushroom, Tony’s patch was reduced to 12 mg and he never took another bump again.”
In the last few weeks of his life, Crewe says White found peace – he was happy. “The thing I find amazing is we had to get special permission to try this experimental treatment but we could get fentanyl, morphine and other highly addictive drugs without blinking an eye.
“To me this alternative treatment should be treated the same as medically assisted dying,” Crewe says. “It should be made available to anyone who wants it.”
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Ontario reports 653 new COVID-19 cases, 6 more virus-related deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Ontario is reporting another week-over-week decline in its daily COVID-19 case count with fewer than 700 new infections confirmed over the past 24 hours.
Provincial health officials logged 653 new COVID-19 cases today, up slightly from 640 on Saturday but down from 715 one week ago.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases continues to drop, hitting 620 today, down from 709 last Sunday.
Of the new cases confirmed today, 499 are in individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 154 are in those who are fully immunized.
With 31,063 tests processed over the past 24 hours, officials are reporting a provincewide positivity rate of two per cent, compared to 2.3 per cent seven days ago.
The province says there are now 177 people with COVID-19 receiving treatment in Ontario intensive care units, declining by five since last Sunday.
Six more virus-related deaths were reported over the past 24 hours but the province says three of those fatalities occurred last month.
Ontario’s active COVID-19 caseload now sits at 5,591, down from 6,396 last Sunday.
More than 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians have now received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
In an effort to boost vaccination rates, the city is holding vaccination clinics in a variety of locations with high foot traffic, including malls across Toronto this weekend.
Dr. Omar Khan, an assistant professor with the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, said Ontario’s high vaccination rate will help keep ICUs from filling up.
“By having people vaccinated, that keeps them out of the hospital, keeps them out of the ICUs, and then lets the medical system catch up with everything that’s been piling up,” he told CP24 on Sunday morning.
The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.
COVID-19: N.B. reports person in 40s has died, as province adds 82 new cases – Globalnews.ca
A person in their 40s is New Brunswick’s 54th COVID-related death.
The province said in a news release Sunday that the person was from Zone 1 (Moncton region).
The news marked six COVID-related deaths in the province since last Wednesday, under a week ago.
“Each life taken in New Brunswick by COVID-19 is more than a number,” said Premier Blaine Higgs in a news release.
“These are people’s parents, children, friends, neighbours and coworkers.”
The death was announced on the same day the province reported 82 new cases — 64 of which involve people who are not fully vaccinated.
There are now 33 people in New Brunswick hospitalized due to the virus, 15 of whom are in the ICU.
With 33 recoveries reported, the number of active cases is now 628.
Public Health data shows 79.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 88 per cent have received their first dose of vaccine.
New cases breakdown
The new cases are:
Zone 1 (Moncton region) – 27 cases
- 12 people 19 and under
- one person 20-29
- three people 30-39
- two people 40-49
- two people 50-59
- two people 70-79
- three people 80-89
- two people 90 and over
Eighteen cases are under investigation and nine are contacts of a previously-confirmed case.
Zone 2 (Saint John region) – four cases
- a person 20-29
- a person 40-49
- a person 60-69
- a person 70-79
Three cases are contacts of previously-confirmed cases and one is under investigation.
COVID-19: the upward trend in cases among children
Zone 3 (Fredericton region) – 30 cases
- 16 people 19 and under
- six people 20-29
- one person 40-49
- three people 50-59
- four people 60-69
Twenty-two cases are under investigation and eight are contacts of previously-confirmed cases.
Zone 4 (Edmundston region) – 14 cases
- four people 19 and under
- two people 20-29
- six people 30-39
- two people 80-89
Thirteen cases are under investigation and one is a contact of a previously-confirmed case.
Zone 5 (Campbellton region) – two cases
- a person 30-39
- a person 70-79
Both cases are contacts of previously-confirmed cases.
Zone 6 (Bathurst region) – four cases
- three people 30-39
- one person 40-49
Three cases are under investigation and one is a contact of a previously-confirmed case.
Zone 7 (Miramichi region) – one case
- a person 30-39
This case is under investigation.
State of emergency reinstated
On Friday, the province reinstated a state of emergency due to the current level of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Physical distancing, indoor masking and a proof of vaccination policy for certain services and businesses are now in effect.
Anyone entering New Brunswick must also pre-register through the New Brunswick Travel Registration Program.
New Brunswickers react to reinstated state of emergency
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Outbreak declared at Prince George's University Hospital of Northern BC – BC News – Castanet.net
A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at Prince George’s University Hospital of Northern BC Sunday.
Northern Health says nine patients and one staff member on the hospital’s Primary Care Medical Unit have tested positive for the virus, and more testing is currently underway.
As a result, the hospital has restricted the unit to essential visitors only.
The condition of the infected people was not disclosed.
An outbreak at the same hospital last December through January left eight people dead, after 33 people tested positive.
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