A Greater Victoria resident is the first non-terminally ill Canadian to be allowed to use psilocybin therapy, which experts say could signal broader access for the treatment in the future.
“This is a very progressive step in the right direction from Health Canada and it signals their willingness to expand their mandate on who gets access to psilocybin beyond simply palliative care and end of life,” said Spencer Hawkswell, CEO of Therapsil, a Victoria-based coalition of health care practitioners.
Therapsil has been advocating for the therapeutic use of psilocybin – a drug naturally found in mushrooms that has a similar effect to LSD and other psychedelic drugs – in small doses for patients in palliative care.
Hawkswell says Mona Strelaeff’s, who lives in Metchosin, application to use psilocybin was more of a “test,” adding that the health authority seemed “perfectly willing” to allow the application through. Because Strelaeff was able to get an exemption even though she is not dealing with end of life distress, Hawkswell believes this could be the start of wider access to the drug, pointing to the recent move in Oregan to decriminalize personal use of drugs.
“That’s what we’re seeing the Canadian government responding to right now,” he says.
Strelaeff, 67, had been dealing with an “awful lot of problems” leading up to Friday, Nov. 6 when she drank the psilocybin tea and underwent a four-hour trip.
Strelaeff left her home in Finland when she was 17, and says she suffered sexual abuse at different instances in her life.
“I tried everything, I took pills, and I did talk therapy,” she says. When nothing worked, Strelaeff turned to alcohol.“There were all these things that came up and I started drinking more and more. I’m an accountant and I mean, it was very difficult to be a drunk and an accountant.”
Strelaeff gave up accountin in her late 40s.
“I finally told myself, I can’t continue this kind of a thing … as soon as I had quit drinking, I found out I had breast cancer, and the breast cancer had metastasized into my lungs.”
Strelaeff says she was given the option of regular chemo or more drastic measures that would allow her to live a few more months. She chose the regular chemo and it worked.
“Some doctors told me I had a miracle happen, other doctors said that they had made a mistake – but in my psyche that made no difference whatsoever. I had already faced death,” she says. For the first year, Strelaeff was on a high, feeling she had “beat all those odds.” But then the “bottom fell out” and she went into a depression.
Her family spent approximately $60,000 on treatment in the U.S. Then, Strelaeff’s daughter died and things only got worse.
So on a Friday morning around 10 a.m., Strelaeff began her journey with Bruce Tobin, a North Saanich psychotherapist and founder of Therapsil, in the room guiding her. Throughout the trip, Strelaeff saw doors that needed to be opened to teach her something about her life. When all the doors were open, Strelaeff felt as if 50 pounds of weight had been lifted off her back. She says she now feels “unbelievably peaceful.”
Strelaeff believes psilocybin-assisted therapy could help anyone dealing with unresolved trauma and wants to see it become available for medical professionals to use for treatment.
Hawkswell agrees, adding that Therapsil has been inundated with requests from people in palliative care seeking access to the treatment.
Therapsil is in the process of training doctors and therapists to provide the treatment themselves. Hawkswell says expects once they can expand to people dealing with anxiety, major depression, or PTSD, there will be a “large uptick” in people applying.