Un témoignage de Robert Foxman
Publié le 5 mars 2023
Texte en anglais
I am a 61-year-old Montrealer and a two-time cancer survivor. In March 2021, I was eligible through TheraPsil, Canada’s advocacy group for psilocybin-assisted therapy, to apply to Health Canada for a Section 56 exemption, which allows the recipient to possess and use psilocybin legally for a one-year period. I applied under the “end of life distress” category, meaning the applicant has had cancer, but is living in fear that said cancer will return and possibly take his or her life.
Although this was all true for me, my psychiatrist and I both felt that psilocybin-assisted therapy, something I had read a lot about with interest, would also be beneficial in working with my lifetime issues of depression and anxiety.
Let me add something very important here… in order to do a psilocybin session, someone like me who is taking an SSRI medication, has to go off his medication for a minimum of six weeks prior to the session date. This is because the psilocybin acts upon the brain’s serotonin receptors, much like the Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors, and, therefore, could cause serotonin overload. Another potential negative aspect of not going off one’s SSRI meds in adequate advance time, is that the quality of one’s session could be blunted by the interaction that the meds have on the psilocybin’s potential effects.
My approval from Health Canada, expected within weeks, began to stall, and planned sessions for mid-May and mid-July both had to be postponed. Let me be very clear, going off SSRIs is an extremely difficult task. Emotions like sadness and anger become super-sized throughout the withdrawal process, and insomnia, a lifelong issue with me, becomes increasingly unmanageable. But I thought I could handle this difficult mind/body change for six weeks, a big sacrifice to make, but one surely worthy of the potential benefits of my impending psilocybin session.
By mid-July I had been off my SSRI medication for 13 weeks and was suffering greatly. I wrote an email to Health Minister Patty Hajdu explaining my predicament, as she was the one person who could fast-track my Section 56 application. When she didn’t respond, I reached out to a doctor friend in Ottawa with psychedelic experience to try to set up an “underground” session. Within 24 hours he set up a session for September, with the lead guide being a woman who had 150 psychedelic-assisted sessions as a guide under her belt. My doctor friend would be the second guide.
The underground session in Ottawa was a real success on many fronts. “Underground” usually has connotations as being clandestine, fringe, amateur and/or dangerous… but this session was the complete opposite. Without getting into the actual content of my 6-hour session, I feel it really benefited me vis-à-vis my depression and anxiety, something I wouldn’t fully notice until well into the post-session integration process. In late September, I went back on my SSRI, which wasn’t a defeat for me.
Before my psychiatrist moved to Australia in September, he hooked me up with a friend of his, a general practitioner who practiced psychotherapy out of his office two days a week. This doctor, someone familiar with psychedelics, agreed to take me on as a therapy patient.
At this point, I stopped even thinking about the possibility that my Section 56 exemption would be granted by Health Canada. Then, months later, on December 6th, 2021, I received a very unexpected email… from Health Canada… notifying me that my Section 56 exemption had officially been granted.
I was now set up to do an official TheraPsil-sanctioned, Health Canada- approved, high-dosage psilocybin session, and would now only have to go off my SSRI meds for six weeks prior to the date we would set up.
On June 11th, the lead guide, a palliative care doctor, and my therapist, the second guide, showed up at my apartment around 9:00 AM to set up, prepare the five grams of psilocybin and begin the pre-session ceremony. At 10:20 AM, the Golden Teacher mushrooms were ingested and the full 6-hours plus session began.
I had prepared a written intention for the session, as is part of the ceremony, but the medicine, in this case, the Golden Teacher psilocybin, has a mind of its own… what I’d like to call a God consciousness… it knows what you need, and over the course of the session, provides you with it.
My June 11th session was a real catharsis, a spiritual exorcism of sorts. It wasn’t what I, or others, might think of as a traditional psychedelic experience. It was almost as if the psilocybin got into the depths of my tortured soul and provoked an emotional discharge of epic proportions, as I cried with incredible intensity for long stretches at a time. This cycle of emotional catharsis repeated on and off for much of the duration of the session.
The lead guide, who had the session recorded, subsequently told me it was like watching a religious experience, which he summed up in four words: acceptance, surrender, humility and euphoria. Yes, by the denouement of the session, around 4:30 PM, I was up on my bed dancing with joy.
In the past year, I’ve become involved with a multi-disciplinary research group with members from various Quebec universities (www.p3a.ca). This research should be instrumental in helping facilitate access to psilocybin therapy for palliative patients in Quebec. I am the “patient” member of the research group and provide first-hand anecdotal experience having gone through “legal” psilocybin-assisted therapy.