Quebec covers psilocybin therapy under medical insurance in historic first
The decision establishes a precedent for how to regulate the substance for the rest of Canada, and potentially the US and other countries.
The Canadian province of Quebec became the first place to cover psilocybin-assisted therapy under medical insurance last week. This is further evidence for the medical benefits of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, and a further step in the push to legalize psilocybin and other psychedelics.
Psilocybin has shown tremendous potential in treating numerous conditions, including severe depression, alcohol and drug addiction, end-of-life anxiety, and more. Several magic mushroom stores have opened up in the US and Canada as of late—and have been subsequently shut down—showing the growing demand for psilocybin therapy.
The US states of Oregon and Colorado have legalized the use of psilocybin, with Oregon’s legal industry set to open up in early 2023. However, the substance is still illegal at the federal level in the US, and medical insurance for psilocybin therapy is probably a long way off (most health insurance doesn’t even cover cannabis at this point).
What are psychedelic mushrooms and psilocybin?
Quebec approves psilocybin therapy
Psilocybin is currently illegal in Canada, but physicians and researchers can apply to Health Canada—the national health agency of Canada—for an exemption to allow them to study or prescribe psilocybin to specific individuals for medical reasons.
Two doctors, Dr. Houman Farzin and Dr. Jean-François Stephan, treated a patient with psilocybin in June 2022, then successfully billed and received payment for their services by the province of Quebec, according to a press release from TheraPsil, a Canadian non-profit advocacy group for psilocybin therapy.
Dr. Stephan argued for the medical benefits, safety, and efficacy of psilocybin in a letter, which was also signed by 15 other colleagues, to the governing body for general practitioners in Quebec—the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ). The group then negotiated with the government to amend their legal codes to allow psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to be covered by medical insurance.
Since Canada has universal healthcare, the psilocybin therapy was covered by the Quebec government, meaning that all Quebec residents could have access to psilocybin—and potentially all Canadians in the future—if deemed medically necessary for them.
Psilocybin laws and access are lagging
Government recognition of the health benefits of psilocybin therapy is a huge step in the push to legalize the substance and other psychedelics, although these substances are still illegal at the federal level in both the US and Canada.
“Quebec has chosen to align with the science in regards to psychedelic medicine,” said Dr. Stephan in a press release. “It’s encouraging to see them recognize the evidence available, and make the necessary adjustments to support the financial aspects of treatment so that it’s not an obstacle for patient access.”
In the US, laws haven’t caught up with demand for magic mushrooms. In Portland, OR, a shop selling magic mushrooms opened up a few months ago and had lines with wait times up to five hours. Magic mushroom shops in San Francisco and Toronto have also been incredibly popular, but all three were recently shut down. Another shop in Hamilton, Canada, was also shut down recently, only one day after it opened.
Nearly 70% of Oregon bans psilocybin, but clinics will still open next year
These shops were open to the general public, a far cry from the medical clearance needed to obtain and administer psilocybin in the Quebec case, but the huge demand for psilocybin is unmistakable. Oregon will also have restrictions on buying psilocybin, and will not have stores open to the general public.
Access to psilocybin, even when legal, is still a huge concern in Oregon, which is set to open clinic doors in early 2023. Psilocybin sessions may cost as much as $1,000 or more per session, restricting therapy to wealthy patrons. This high price tag is likely due to the huge cost of training for facilitators, which is projected to be $10,000-20,000.
As with cannabis, psilocybin laws are messy right now. Regardless of these complications, the case in Quebec is a positive sign that governments are starting to accept the medical benefits of psilocybin and amending their laws to allow access to the substance for their citizens.