Photo Credit: Psychedelic Spotlight
From a therapeutic and economic perspective, the benefits may outweigh the costs
Christian D’Ambrosi, Contributor
For decades, marijuana was demonized; it was the primary subject of the controversial ‘War on Drugs’ in the United States (and similar efforts in Canada). The stigma took years to dissipate, and it was only recently that the drug became legal in Ontario.
It now seems that psychedelics are on a similar trajectory.
On January 16th, Alberta became the first Canadian province to approve the use of a variety of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes. This is not a full legalization; after all, the new regulations call for doctors to receive extra licensing, psychiatrists to oversee treatments, and restrictions to vary based on the psychedelic effects of the drug in question. However, legalization opens the door to psychedelic treatments becoming more mainstream, creating a world of possibilities both positive and negative.
Perhaps the most contentious issues at hand surround effectiveness and safety.
As of now, studies and clinical trials seem to be inconclusive, but promising. In a 2008 study, psilocybin, the compound found in the drug known as “magic mushrooms,” was found to lower anxiety and improve mood without clinically adverse effects. In a 2020 study, this same compound commissioned 71% of participants with a major depressive disorder to show a greater than 50% reduction in symptoms after four weeks. Even more shockingly, studies have even suggested that some psychedelics could help human brains forge new neural connections.
These results imply that while psychedelics are generally helpful, they do not work for everybody. This leads to an even more important consideration: Do the possible benefits outweigh the potential safety risks?
While psychedelics are generally not addictive, users often have to increase dosages incrementally to get the same effects. This is not to mention the fact that psychedelic users sometimes develop hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD), which can trigger long-term effects such as paranoia, visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, and mood changes.
While these potential side effects necessitate strict regulation for the time being, Alberta’s decision is essential in ensuring that psychedelic research can continue. Without the promise of legalization, it is difficult for profit-driven pharmaceutical companies to justify costly psychedelics research. As such, when provinces like Alberta join states like Oregon, California, and Michigan in lifting restrictions on psychedelics use, they increase the likelihood that definitive research on the subject of psychedelics will be conducted. Furthermore, since the approval of psychedelic therapies is strictly controlled by public health agencies and is often only prescribed when more conventional methods are ineffective, the risk that an extremely harmful psychedelic drug will be made public is rather minimal.
It should also be noted that the presence of Canadian firms at the forefront of psychedelic research should be an added incentive for other provinces, such as Ontario, to seriously consider partial legalization. For example, the firm MindMedicine was founded in Toronto in 2019, and has since become one of the psychedelic sector’s biggest players with a market cap of over $175 million; however, the firm has since moved to New York.
Another major player has been Numinus Wellness. This Vancouver-based firm has a market cap of nearly $75 million and uses psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to help patients. They could, along with MindMedicine, hypothetically be incentivized to expand operations to Toronto if provincial restrictions were to loosen.
Now, the ball is in Ontario’s court. Alberta is on the cusp of gaining a first-mover advantage, and Ontario should consider creating a more friendly environment for psychedelics before what could be a golden opportunity passes the province by. And while legalization would be a gamble beset with risks, there seems to be a fairly strong chance that the positives would outweigh the negatives.