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Alberta Becomes First Canadian Region to Legalize Psychedelics

This month, Alberta, Canada joined the likes of Oregon and (maybe) Colorado in defying federal law to bring much-needed psychedelic treatment to their…



This month, Alberta, Canada joined the likes of Oregon and (maybe) Colorado in defying federal law to bring much-needed psychedelic treatment to their citizens. Canada has been one of the more substantial contributors to the psychedelic movement with a significant amount of research and development coming out of their institutions. Just like their neighbors to the South, Canada remains against psychedelics on a federal level. Alberta has taken things into their own hands and set forth plans to allow psychiatrists to provide psychedelic treatments to their patients.

It seems that Alberta is making a move for the main Canadian province in the psychedelic history books. This title has previously been secured by their neighbor Saskatchewan– where doctor Humphry Osmond conducted his research and coined the term “psychedelic.” Osmond researched the benefits of LSD and Mescaline. His studies of LSD to treat alcohol use disorder are still highly regarded today. Much of the research done in the 50s and 60s is disregarded because of the lack of structure that scientists today require. His work, however, still stands strong. 

The history of psychedelics in Canada is rooted in medical development. They didn’t have the counterculture movement at the magnitude of what happened in the US. The history of psychedelics in Canada reeks of responsible medical practices– how very Canadian. The United States of America was the older sister who got into too much trouble and ruined it for everyone. Once Nixon launched the war on drugs, the other Western countries had little choice but to fall in line.

Dr. Humphry Osmond’s research drifted away along with the dreams of baby boomers at UC Berkeley. Last week, Alberta made a move that would have made the late doctor proud. In just a few short months, Albertans will be able to legally access psychedelic therapy.

Citizens will have legal access to psychedelic-assisted therapy

This will be the first time that people will have access to regulated psychedelic treatment under the supervision of mental health professionals in Canada. Starting early next year, psychiatrists will be able to apply for access to psychedelics which they can use in sessions with their patients. Under the new law, patients will have access to psilocybin and psilocin (active ingredients in magic mushrooms), MDMA, LSD, mescaline, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and ketamine.

Though psychedelic medicines are illegal in Canada, medical providers do currently have one route to providing psychedelics for their patients. Researchers and doctors can apply for access to psychedelics through Health Canada. Patients can also individually petition for access to psychedelic treatment if all other methods have failed them. These pathways are primarily theoretical though. Those seeking psychedelic treatment are almost exclusively denied. A non-profit is currently suing the Canadian government for infringing on the rights of the people by preventing access to psychedelic treatment. The outcome of this lawsuit is still uncertain, so Alberta has taken things into their own hands.

Perhaps most surprising is that Alberta is the most conservative province in Canada. Historically, progressive states have championed drug reform. However, psychedelics are becoming an increasingly bipartisan issue with people from all sides joining together to support the people that they represent. The main argument being used by conservatives in support of psychedelics is their ability to help veterans and law enforcement with PTSD. 

At the press conference last Wednesday, Alberta Health officials told the public that they would begin the process of creating a container for psychedelic treatment to exist in. Surprisingly, Alberta’s new law will be going into effect at the same time as Oregon’s psilocybin measure does– January 2023. Oregon’s measure 109 passed back in 2020– giving over two years for a committee to convene and establish the container that will hold psychedelic usage in the state. Alberta lawmakers will have less than four months from this announcement, on October 06, 2022, the regulate this new system.

Alberta is becoming one of the brave states to pioneer the legalization of psychedelics. There is no blueprint for what the regulations and systems around this type of therapy look like. Oregon will be the first to create one of these systems, but Alberta is taking a different direction than them.

Alberta takes a different approach than Oregon

Oregon was the first US state to legalize the use of psilocybin, and other states are beginning to follow suit. This new law is the first view we have of what psychedelic legalization in Canada is going to look like, and it is taking a different path. Oregon’s laws and Colorado’s proposed legislation are focused on bringing affordable treatment to its citizens. As a result of that goal, practitioners will not be required to have a degree in psychology. The only requirement will be a state-approved certification. Alberta, on the other hand, is focused on giving practicing psychiatrists access to psychedelics to help enhance their treatments.

Calgary psychiatrist Dr. Rob Tanguay says patients are in a vulnerable state when they take psychedelic medications and should be supervised and treated only by qualified health professionals. There are pros and cons to taking this route in legalization. On the upside, they will be able to offer treatment quicker than Oregon will be able to because they already have clinics and therapists available. They are adding to the resources provided by existing practitioners, rather than creating an entirely new system. This will lead to the quick availability of treatment. However, it will make scalability more difficult.

There are a finite number of psychiatrists in Alberta. Many of them are already booked up and would not be able to take new patients through the psychedelic treatments that they need. It will also take a significant amount of time and money for those wanting to offer psychedelic therapy to acquire the degrees required to do so. 

Though this model has its strengths and weaknesses, it is going to be incredibly beneficial to the future of psychedelics. Right now we have Oregon and Alberta testing two different systems for legal psychedelic therapy. The results of these experiments will have a hand in the legalization of psychedelics around the world. Over the course of 2023, experts will be able to see what works and what fails within these systems, and other regions will have some direction in creating their laws.

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