A Review of Psychedelic Plant Medicine Studies in Canada

Canada Plays a Significant Role in the Research of Natural Psychedelic Plant Medicine.

The study of plant medicine and psychedelic plants gets a back seat when it comes to legal research and clinical trials. This is compared to the ease and simplicity of focusing on a psychedelic molecule, plant derivative, or a plant-based proprietary medicine, both from the researching side and the governmental side.

An example of a psychedelic molecule is MDMA, which is in Phase III trials for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through MAPS. For a plant derivative or proprietary medicine example, Toronto-based MindMed has 18-MC, a proprietary, non-hallucinogenic molecule that’s based on ibogaine, and is currently in Phase II trials to treat opioid use disorders.

While many psychedelic plant studies have occurred and continue to happen internationally, I’d like to focus on Canadian studies that utilize the natural plants and not a derivative or proprietary alternative. While these examples are small in size, they’re all promising. With many new psychedelic startups founded in Canada, we can expect the range of studies to keep growing.

Past Canadian Psychedelic Plant Medicine Studies

Dr. Kenneth Tupper. Source: Facebook

Dr. Kenneth Tupper has made invaluable contributions to public health in B.C. and across Canada in the areas of drug policy, reform, and education, along with harm reduction. His work includes two decades studying and advocating the potential of psychedelic plants and substances, helping pave the way for the current wave of psychedelic interest. Among his many academic publications, he was part of two small but notable studies on Ayahuasca with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.

Ayahuasca and addiction

In 2013, a study on Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction was published, which reported “results from a preliminary observational study of Ayahuasca-assisted treatment for problematic substance use and stress delivered in a rural First Nations community in British Columbia, Canada.” This study utilized a mental health retreat format with four days of group counselling, combined with two expert-led Ayahuasca ceremonies. It followed 12 participants before and six months after use. All participants reported positive and lasting changes. More rigorous research of Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for problematic substance use is warranted.

Ayahuasca and eating disorders

The second study published in 2017 conducted exploratory research on the potential therapeutic value of Ayahuasca in the context of eating disorders. This involved 16 participants previously diagnosed with an eating disorder who also had previous experience with Ayahuasca. The participants were extensively interviewed before and after Ayahuasca ceremonies to see if the experiences provided therapeutic value for their eating disorders. A researcher involved in this study said many in the cohort reported an improved connection with food and body image. Half of the participants also reported reductions in anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidality, and problematic substance use. Overcoming dysfunctional patterns felt more within reach, and the group expressed motivation to continue therapy for their eating disorder.

Microdosing psilocybin and LSD

In 2017, the first pre-registered scientific study on microdosing psychedelics was conducted, which included psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. Led by Thomas Anderson and Rotem Petranker, it led to the opening of the University of Toronto’s Psychedelic Studies Research Program. This observational study investigated whether microdosing psychedelics is related to differences in personality, mental health, and creativity. It used an anonymous online survey of 909 participants from a wide range of demographics and countries. It found microdosers scored higher in wisdom, open-mindedness and creativity. They also scored lower on neuroticism, dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality. Some participants also found downsides, such as increased anxiety, moon-instability, and gastrointestinal distress.

Photo: Darius Bashar

Present and Future Psychedelic Plant Medicine Studies

These are only a few current Canadian studies, but we can be sure to see them increase as time passes. With new Canadian-based psychedelic startups now on the scene, I hope a good percentage of them are able to focus their efforts on traditional plants.

The world’s first longitudinal clinical trial on microdosing psilocybin

The University of Toronto is following up their observational study on microdosing and conducting the world’s first double-blinded, randomized control trial to test the benefits and drawbacks of microdosing psilocybin. This study will look at benefits to mood, focus, and creativity, while also carefully monitoring participant safety and sobriety (including competence to drive) over the trial period.

Psilocybin and substance-use disorders

Dr. Tupper and the B.C. Centre on Substance Use are currently conducting clinical trials on psilocybin for the treatment of substance-use disorders. He told The Georgia Straight that this study would look at people with alcohol, stimulant, and opioid-use disorders.

Psilocybin and treatment-resistant depression

COMPASS Pathways is London-based, but operates internationally. This already big name in the psychedelics space is conducting clinical trials in multiple countries. Their trial on psilocybin and treatment-resistant depression (P-TRD) is already underway in multiple cities, including in Toronto in partnership with The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at the University of Toronto. This is the largest psilocybin trial to date with 216 patients globally. The patients, who suffer from depression and haven’t responded to established medications, will be part of randomized placebo-controlled trials with the support of specially trained therapists.

Field Trip Health’s Psychedelic Therapy Clinic in Toronto. Source: Field Trip Health

Toronto company to open psilocybin research centre in Jamaica

Toronto-based FieldTrip Health has already opened a psychedelic treatment centre in their hometown, with plans to open centres in New York and Los Angeles. They now plan to open the world’s first psilocybin mushroom research centre. It will be based in Jamaica, where psilocybin mushrooms are legal, in partnership with the University of the West Indies. This centre will cover cultivation and research of 180+ species of psilocybin-producing mushrooms for therapeutic and wellness applications.

Vancouver company partners to open psychedelics research centre

Numinus will offer psychedelic-based therapy through a wellness centre in Vancouver and psychedelic medicine through research and development at an upcoming 7,000-square-foot lab facility in Nanaimo, BC.

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