Laurie Brooks says her experience with psilocybin has helped her with her anxiety and depression after she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. (Provided by Laurie Brooks)

‘I’ve been able to be happy and anxiety-free’: B.C. woman pilots ‘magic mushroom’ therapy

North Saanich psychotherapist pushes for alternative treatment

When Laurie Brooks was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in less than a year, the anxiety and depression that she thought she had dealt with came rushing back.

Brooks, who lives in Abbotsford, is one of four Canadian cancer patients who were recently granted an exemption from the Canadian Ministry of Health, allowing her to use psilocybin as a treatment for end-of-life distress. Therapsil, a Victoria-based coalition of health care practitioners helped her get there. The non-profit has been advocating for the therapeutic use of psilocybin – a drug naturally found in magic mushrooms which has a similar effect to LSD and other psychedelic drugs – in small doses for patients in palliative care.

Psilocybin is naturally found in several species of fungi commonly referred to as magic mushrooms. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

Dr. Bruce Tobin, a psychotherapist who lives in North Saanich, is the founder of the non-profit and became interested in the effects of psilocybin over a decade ago. Tobin began to realize that while conventional therapy worked for some there was a wide range of people suffering from conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder and often addiction, who could not be treated through traditional therapy.

RELATED: Canada approves psilocybin for compassionate use in four patients

Most commonly, psilocybin has been studied in relation to end of life distress, which Tobin calls the “nasty combination” of depression, anxiety and hopelessness that one can feel after receiving a terminal diagnosis.

In January 2017, Tobin filed an application for a section 56 exemption under the Controlled Substances Act on behalf of a class of patients who had terminal cancer, were experiencing end of life distress and had already tried all other forms of treatment. Earlier this year, Health Canada formally denied that application, stating the science around psilocybin was not sufficiently developed to be used this way.

Dr. Bruce Tobin is the founder of Therapsil, a coalition of health care practitioners advocating for the use of psilocybin to treat people experiencing end of life stress. (Provided by Therapsil)

Since that initial application, the non-profit had to change its strategy and began empowering patients like Brooks to file applications for themselves, helping to educate them on the process and other health care practitioners who wanted to be able to offer the treatment.

“People have a right to die in Canada through assisted dying, but what about the living part,” says Brooks. “There’s a lot of space between being given a terminal diagnosis and when you die.”

Brooks says she just wanted to get through her first bout of cancer. She didn’t ask questions about her treatment and her anxiety began to consume her, so much so that eventually it began to manifest physically and she wasn’t able to lift one of her arms up.

READ ALSO: Experts warn against picking Vancouver Island’s magic mushrooms species

Prior to the approval earlier this month, Brooks used her first dose of psilocybin in October 2019. Leading up to her trip, Brooks attended four or five therapy sessions. She had to work through “a lot of stuff” prior to taking the dose, figuring out what she wanted to get out of the experience.

Brooks’ trip lasted six hours and immediately after, she was able to lift her arm again.

“As soon as my trip was over, I said to my therapist – that was amazing, I don’t ever want to do it again,” she says.

She describes feeling these “waves” that would knock her down throughout the trip. At first, the waves were huge, but by the end, Brooks felt like she was being rocked gently in a boat.

“The biggest thing in regards to my cancer, afterwards, I was able to see my cancer in a box on the floor – it wasn’t hanging over me every day anymore. My anxiety was gone.”

According to Tobin, medical professionals are still in the process of understanding the effects of psilocybin on a neurological and biochemical level. “Basically psilocybin allows people to face certain parts of their life or life story that are really difficult to look closely at in normal states of consciousness,” he explains. “It allows a person to kind of come to terms with the truth of their situation and see clearly what’s important to them.”

Since her trip, Brooks says people tell her she doesn’t look sick anymore. She feels at peace and her life-long desire to be a “people pleaser” has gone away. Her relationship with her husband and four children has evolved and the family is able to have more open conversations.

“I’ve been able to be happy and anxiety-free and not worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow, I’m able to live in the day and in the moment,” she says.

Brooks wants to see this kind of treatment made more available to people who are struggling with their diagnosis.

“There’s a fair amount of what we call underground therapy going on right now,” says Tobin, adding that he wants to open up legitimate access to the drug. “There are hundreds and I’m sure thousands of people in Canada who have gone through underground therapy.”

Health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay teachers’ union going to labour relations board over COVID-19 related work conditions

Union issues open letter to premier, education minister, health minister and Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Trail market goes garlic

The event goes Saturday in downtown Trail from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Two men killed in Hwy 3 collision west of Castlegar

The single-vehicle incident happened Thursday morning

Central Mountain Air to offer flights out of Castlegar

The company will be offering Castlegar to Vancouver flights October 1.

Health ministry to hire 33 new practitioners for Kootenay Boundary

Over 15,000 people in the region don’t have access to a primary care provider

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Thousands of child care spaces coming to 35 B.C. communities

Province announces milestone in Childcare BC plan

Most Read