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)

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)

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)

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

Just Posted

The ‘official’ opening of 2nd Edition Coworking in downtown Fernie, a project five years in the making by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. Left to right: Executive Director of the Fernie Chamber Brad Parsell, incoming President of the Fernie Chamber Norm Fraser, outgoing President of the Fernie Chamber Anita Palmer, and Mayor of Fernie Ange Qualizza. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Fernie Chamber cuts the ribbon on 2nd Edition

The new coworking space in Fernie is now ‘officially’ open, but has been operating since early 2021

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Sparwood Mayor David Wilks with the new AED SaveStation installed at the Sparwood Leisure Centre. (Contributed by District of Sparwood)
Sparwood installs public AED

The SaveStation was installed thanks to a grant from CP Rail

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

(File)
“Gift card scam,” and “grandparent scam” are on the rise, Cranbrook RCMP say

Folks are falling for these scams: “No Government agency or reputable company will ever ask anyone to pay with gift cards in lieu of their fines”

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read