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'I just want safe, legal access': Health Canada denies terminally-ill Saskatoon man's 'magic mushroom' treatment

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Thomas Hartle’s quality of life drastically changed when he started taking psilocybin, known as magic mushrooms.

Hartle lives with terminal colon cancer. He has more than 40 tumours in his abdomen, that cannot be operated on.

In 2020, Health Canada granted Hartle an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to use psilocybin therapy for one year. He was the first person in Canada to receive an exemption.

The psychedelic-assisted therapy helped ease Hartle’s anxieties about dying.

“It really turned down the volume on all of that noise and chatter that I had in my head,” Hartle tells CTV News.

Finding success in the treatment, Hartle applied to extend his exemption and continue accessing the drug.

After 511 days, Hartle heard back from Health Canada. The federal agency said it intended to deny his request.

“Why would they wait so very long when they're very well aware of how terminal cancer usually goes? It seems particularly cruel. From my perspective, it sort of feels like they were waiting for me to die and stop being a problem for them,” Hartle says.

“The part that strikes me as kind of crazy is that I have had access to this therapy and it has been extremely effective for me. It is literally the only thing that has successfully helped with my end-of-life anxiety. I'm not experimenting or trying to find an answer for this. I already have the answer and I know what works. I just want safe, legal access to it.”

Why Health Canada denied Hartle’s request

In a statement to CTV News, Health Canada says is has “great empathy for individuals diagnosed with a terminal illness.”

The federal agency says it “carefully and thoroughly reviews each request for an exemption to use psilocybin” on a case-by-case basis.

Health Canada says it sent a letter of intent to refuse Hartle’s request on Feb. 27 on the grounds Hartle “may be able to access psilocybin through other existing regulatory options, such as the Special Access Program (SAP) and clinical trials.”

Special Access Program is flawed, Hartle says

Under the SAP, doctors can request access to restricted drugs.

But Hartle says not every doctor is willing to go through the SAP application process to request a drug they’re not well-versed in, and has a stigma attached to it.

“It’s sort of the equivalent of saying any doctor could perform surgery. That is technically true, but chances are you’re going to go to a surgeon who is actually trained,” Hartle says.

Hartle says he would have to travel to British Columbia to find a doctor familiar with psilocybin-assisted therapy, willing to go through the SAP.

As for the clinical trial option, Hartle says finding a doctor willing to go through the time and expense of conducting a clinical trial is unfeasible.

“Health Canada, unfortunately, is offering solutions that are not really practical and viable,” Hartle says.

Health Canada says Hartle was given 14 days, after receiving the letter, “to provide additional information to Health Canada before making its final decision.”

Hartle has written an open letter to Canada’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett, outlining his concerns.

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