Author of the article: Bill Kaufmann
Peter Atkinson says magic mushrooms have already done much to tame the post-traumatic stress demons conjured by two years serving in Afghanistan and Bosnia.
“I want to live my life not looking over my shoulder, I want to do this working with a doctor, but that’s not readily available,” said Atkinson, 48.
Last Tuesday, the resident of Smith Falls, Ont., applied to Canada’s minister of health for an exemption that would allow therapists to treat him based on the currently illegal psychedelic.
It’s been granted to several terminally ill Canadians but never to a patient in a non-palliative situation, or a military veteran, said the psychedelic therapy firm assisting him.
A University of Alberta psychiatry professor said he’s convinced of the medicinal properties of psilocybin and hopes the federal government grants the exemption, as long as the therapy is conducted properly.
“Of every medication I’ve seen, I have more faith psilocybin will be a breakthrough than any other therapy,” said Dr. Peter Silverstone.
He said research into the discipline and interest being shown in the province means the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary could be leaders in unlocking the psychedelic’s potential in treating mental illness.
Atkinson, who’s suffered from anxiety, depression, chronic pain and alcoholism after ending his 25-year military career in the Canadian military, said he’d welcome that research.
But the ex-soldier, for whom calling in airstrikes for months on end has taken a mental health toll, said he’s already certain of psilocybin’s merits after his own private use cooled his burning stress.
“I’d be in a mall and hear a song and start crying, I’d bang my head on a wall — my anxiety and depression was that bad,” said Atkinson.
“With mushrooms, I’m able to be myself with my family and when I’d take breaks from it, my wife says ‘please go back on it,’” he said.
Other rehabilitation methods have had limited success, said Atkinson, and pharmaceutical medications have taken a toll.
He said medicinal use of cannabis has improved his health by weaning him off alcohol and prescription drugs, and enhancing his sleep.
But he said under controlled conditions with psilocybin, his recovery would be enhanced.
“It opens your mind if you’re willing to do it with proper therapy — it can open you up to a new world,” said Atkinson.
He said many other veterans grappling with mental illnesses are expressing interest in the treatment, adding he believes magic mushrooms’ wider therapeutic use is all but inevitable.
“You look at where cannabis was five years ago and we’re at the exact same spot now,” said Atkinson.
The U of A’s Silverstone largely agrees, adding 60 studies of psilocybin’s merits either underway or impending illustrate the momentum behind widening its use — one that was stillborn due to concern over stronger psychedelics.
“Fears about LSD put a stop to research into psilocybin. We lost a tool for therapy but I’d say it’s roaring back,” he said.
“In the next two years, we’re going to see something really quite remarkable coming out of this.”
Psilocybin and other compounds in the mushrooms impact neurotransmitters, primarily serotonin, and have been shown to inhibit conditions like anxiety and depression without the side-effects of more potent psychedelics, he said.
For the sake of disclosure, Silverstone said he’s made a financial investment in the field, but insisted that merely shows how confident he is in its eventual acceptance and clinical success.
“I have never had any shares in any company before,” he said.
“This could also be a huge commercial opportunity for Alberta and it would be a shame if places like B.C. or Ontario beat us to it.”
It’s hoped Health Canada will grant Atkinson an exemption enabling his psilocybin therapy in the next couple of months, or even sooner, said Ronan Levy with the firm Field Trip Health Ltd. which would facilitate the veteran’s treatment.
With the positive optics of helping a suffering military veteran, “this is an easy opportunity for the government to take the ball and run with it,” he said.
But Levy said there’s already been more willingness to consider the medicinal virtues of psilocybin than there was for cannabis.
“There’s more of an open-minded curiosity to it, there’s not that distance, that fear,” he said.
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