Last week, Thomas Hartle of Saskatoon became the first known Canadian to take psychedelic mushrooms with the blessing of the law.
The 52-year-old is one of four Canadians with incurable cancer given special permission by the federal government to use psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical in magic mushrooms, to treat end of life distress.
Since the session, Hartle said he’s been able to shrug off some of the anxiety that has followed him since his terminal cancer diagnosis in 2016.
“For me, daily anxiety was literally robbing me of tremendous part of my life,” Hartle said.
“I have got so much of my life and my time back.”
The father of two became interested in psilocybin therapy after his cancer diagnosis in 2016, which he describes as a constant source of anxiety.
Dr. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural science at Johns Hopkins University and the associate director of the school’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness, is the lead author of the largest study to date on psilocybin’s benefits in patients with terminal cancer.
“People come out of these sessions oftentimes reporting a clarity they’ve rarely experienced in life,” John son said. “It’s a very sober experience, I would say, rather than an intoxicating experience.”
Johnson is careful to draw the line between medically supervised psilocybin therapy and the “wild west” of recreational use.
Hartle spent weeks preparing with Dr. Bruce Tobin, a clinical psychologist and the founder of TheraPsil, the advocacy organization that helped Hartle and other patients secure their exemptions from Health Canada.
Because the mushrooms are illegal to buy or sell, Hartle grew them himself from spores. He took them under the supervision of Tobin and a close friend. During the session, Hartle put on a blindfold and headphones and tuned into a playlist curated by the team at Johns Hopkins. It features mostly classical tracks without words and closes with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
Hartle said it wasn’t at all what he expected.
“ It was a lot like the transition that you have between waking and dreaming, except it wasn’t interrupted by sleep, ” he said.
Johnson said psilocybin shouldn’t be viewed as a miracle cure, but he believes it deserves more investigation based on the relative known risks and benefits.
Hartle said he hopes his case inspires more research into the potential of psychedelics.
“Making the history was never really my motivation on this. I absolutely assure you, I’ve been doing this for some very selfish reasons, like not feeling anxiety,” he joked.
“But I’ve always felt that this type of research was very notably absent. If something can help people, why wouldn’t we be investigating it?”
Hartle said he’s grateful to Health Minister Patty Hajdu and the department of controlled substances for approving his request, and to TheraPsil for helping secure it.
He plans to keep recording how he feels in his diary and communicating that with Tobin. Now, he can focus on living, he said.
“I find myself much more living in the moment, rather than thinking about what might happen or what could be around the corner.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020