Nova Scotia’s first clinical trial involving psilocybin—the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms—will receive its first volunteer patients this week.
The Windsor-based Halucenex Life Sciences Inc. is trialling the compound for use in treating severe post-traumatic stress. The psychedelic compound production company is banking on the drug’s potential as a breakthrough therapeutic treatment for veterans and first-responders, among other groups. That’s because it functions differently than other typically prescribed drugs, Halucenex’s lead therapist Brenda Perks tells The Coast: “It shows you the patterns and stories that you have not dealt with in the past.”
While psilocybin’s legal status is questionable—it’s considered a Schedule III substance in Canada—it’s seen a surge of research interest in recent years, for everything from end-of-life anxiety to treatment-resistant depression. In May of this year, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research launched a $3-million grant for trials exploring the “safety and early efficacy” of using magic mushrooms in conjunction with therapy to treat substance use and mental health concerns. In January, Health Canada restored its “special access program,” granting physicians the green light to request restricted psychedelics for patients on a “case-by-case basis.”
For professor Erika Dyck, a Dalhousie alum and renowned historian of psychedelics in Canada, it’s “really quite astounding” how much attention psilocybin is getting.
“We’re starting to see more and more clinical trials approved, more and more bonafide institutions getting behind this effort,” she tells The Coast. “And I think that’s really changing the conversation.”
Thursday night (Nov. 17), Dyck is sharing her research in a keynote speech for the University of King’s College’s MacLennan Lecture (7:30pm at Alumni Hall, 6350 Coburg Road). Among the topics she’ll explore is what has sparked the current “psychedelic renaissance,” what led to the drugs’ decades-long prohibition and what is at stake in their resurgence.
Halucenex trial will have cohort of 20 volunteer patients
Halucenex saw 1,500 applicants from around the world for its first 20-patient cohort. If all goes well with the study, the company aims for a follow-up trial with 100 to 500 more participants.
“The more of these trials that we can get out the door, the more opportunities that will be for future drug development,” the company’s CEO and president, Bill Fleming, told attendees at a psychedelic research conference in Halifax this week.
But if you’re looking to score some ‘shrooms, you’re probably out of luck: There’s a “lot of screening” involved in selecting the cohort, according to Perks. Not only are prospective patients screened for severe PTSD (the focus of the trial), they’re also screened for cardiac issues (psilocybin raises your heart rate) and overall health.