A Kingston organization is assisting with a clinical trial to examine the effects of the psychedelic compound psilocybin on the mental health of front-line health-care providers.
Neuma Centre for Social Wellness, Kingston’s first legal psychedelic community health facility, will help administer the ATMA Journey Centers Inc. trial, which is looking to include 500 participants across Canada.
It’s the largest psilocybin clinical trial in the world to date, Cory Firth, co-creator and community director with Neuma Centre, told the Whig-Standard.
“It’s a pretty historic trial that could lead to a lot of really interesting information that will help Canada,” Firth said.
Neuma Centre was established in October 2022 and currently offers classes utilizing cannabis as a psychedelic compound, as well as music, mindfulness and breath work to enhance emotional well-being. The centre operates out of the old Portsmouth Town Hall on King Street.
ATMA, an Alberta-based company focused on delivering psychedelic-assisted therapy training and conducting psychedelic research, completed the first phase of the psilocybin clinical trial in 2022 to prove the compound’s safety when administered to healthy participants.
Now, the second phase of the trial will asses psilocybin’s efficacy in front-line health-care workers such as doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and others who are suffering from COVID-19-related mental health concerns, including major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or occupational burnout.
According to ATMA, the trial will use standardized questionnaires before and after a psilocybin session to assess mental health improvement, and a survey following an experiential session to assess how effective individuals believe the compound is as a therapeutic tool, based on their firsthand experience.
“(Neuma Centre is) the Ontario partner assisting in the deliverability of the experience for those in Ontario that are looking to go through the trial,” Firth said.
While Kingston is an ideally central location for study participants to access, with approximately 40 per cent of the Canadian population within a three-hour radius, Firth said other partners are being sought to help include trial participants.
“We’re also looking for other partners in Ontario to help facilitate the folks that need to come through in this region,” he said.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound found in more than 200 species of fungi. Possession, cultivation, sale (except for legal medical reasons) and transport of mushrooms containing the compound are currently illegal in Canada.
However, in the past three years, exemptions have been permitted for use in end-of-life patients experiencing anxiety or depression, and doctors can request access to the compound for their patients through Health Canada’s Special Access Program, which allows licensed physicians to request access to a drug that is not currently available for sale in Canada.
Research into the use of psilocybin in psychedelic-assisted therapy for mental disorders is finding beneficial outcomes, including a randomized clinical trial in 2020 by researchers from the Centre for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, which found rapid and sustained anti-depressant effects in patients suffering from major depressive disorder.
In January 2023, the province of Alberta legalized the use of psilocybin and other psychedelics, such as DMT, LSD, MDMA, mescaline and ketamine, for use in psychotherapy. That option is available through psychiatrists licensed and registered in Alberta.
While psychedelics are being used by many “underground” to assist with mental health disorders, Firth said the trial, which has received a “no-objection letter” from Health Canada, can help current policymakers better understand the compound’s therapeutic potential and act as a step towards legalization.
Firth also said that research will assist in creating safe and effective regulations for psychedelic use.
Firth said psychedelics are not necessarily for everyone.
“There is a very safe and specific way that they have to be considered, when we’re talking about very specific needs like trauma, PTSD and severe mental illness,” he said. “But I think as we evolve here, and as they become part of the medical mainstream, we will see that spill over into our general wellness, which will be a really interesting future.”
Firth believes careful and intentional psychedelic use could become a meaningful way for people to connect with their own health, wellness and community.
“I look at psychedelics as a tool for expanding our individual understandings of wellness,” he said. “We’re moving beyond the biomedical model of symptom-based allopathic treatments and moving into more source-based, wisdom-based therapeutic tools that help us help ourselves.
“When I think of the future and what psychedelics can provide, I think it’s a place where people feel a little more confident in their health and their well-being, and that they have tools that are actually effective at getting to the root cause of what might be ailing them.”
The clinical trial will begin in August, and Neuma Centre will open the application process in the near future. To learn more and receive updates, sign up at Neuma Centre’s website at www.neumacentre.com/research.
Those interested in participating can see a list of eligibility criteria at ATMA’s website: www.atmajourney.com/n500-eligibility-criteria.
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