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Alberta sets standards for psychedelic drug-assisted therapy

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Alberta making changes to address mental health
WATCH ABOVE: More than 800 Albertans have died this year from opioid overdoses and now the provincial government is making regulatory changes to help with addictions and mental health. Sarah Ryan explains – Oct 5, 2022

The government of Alberta is outlining requirements and standards for psychedelic-assisted therapy, becoming the first province in Canada to put these guidelines and medical oversight in place.

Psychedelic drugs include psilocybin, psilocin, MDMA, LSD, mescaline (peyote), DMT, 5 methoxy DMT and ketamine.

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In a news release Wednesday, the province said “emerging evidence shows that psychedelic-assisted therapy can lead to improvements for people with certain psychiatric disorders, including PTSD and treatment-resistant depression.”

“In order to fully realize the potential of this emerging field, we must have high standards of care in place to protect Albertans accessing care and ensure the legitimacy of the therapy,” said Mike Ellis, associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

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“These new quality standards create a strong foundation for the safe and effective use of psychedelic assisted therapy in Alberta as this field advances.”

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This month, the province introduced an amendment to the Mental Health Services Protection Regulation. The requirements come into effect Jan. 16, 2023.

Safeguards and expert medical oversight are required under Alberta’s legislation including:

  • With certain exceptions, clinics offering psychedelic-assisted treatment must be licensed under the Mental Health Services Protection Act and have the medical oversight of a psychiatrist.
  • Patients undergoing psychedelic drug treatment must be monitored by qualified health professionals if the dosage of the drug brings the patient into an altered state of consciousness.
  • Clinics providing psychedelic drug treatment must appoint a psychiatrist to serve as medical director.
  • Only a psychiatrist, or an appropriately trained physician in consultation with a psychiatrist, can prescribe psychedelic drugs used in treatment.

“Alberta is the first province to identify and understand that psychedelics are the future area of treatment for so many Canadians struggling with mental health,” said Dr. Robert Tanguay, co-chair of the Alberta Pain Strategy and co-lead of the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Program with Alberta Health Services.

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“There is an opportunity for Alberta to be a leader in this field and this begins by recognizing the need to protect anyone undergoing these treatments.

“It’s incredible to see Alberta leading the way in psychedelic-assisted therapy by making sure Albertans are protected and working on improving access to care.”

Alberta developed the framework in consultation with experts in psychedelic-assisted therapy, regulatory colleges and professional associations, as well as Alberta Health Services.

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“It is my hope that this announcement inspires other jurisdictions in Canada — and abroad — to follow suit by promoting evidence-based therapeutic approaches that can improve the health and wellness of veterans, and opens the door to additional communities that will stand to benefit from equitable access to legal, safe, regulated, and affordable psychedelic therapies,” said David Fascinato, executive director of Heroic Hearts Project Canada.

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Based on the advice of experts, Alberta’s requirements for psychedelic drug treatment differ depending on the level of risk involved — such as the use of ketamine versus other psychedelic drugs — whether the service includes psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and whether the dosage is likely to cause an altered state of consciousness.

The new requirements do not apply to clinical research trials nor to psychedelics prescribed for the treatment of conditions other than psychiatric disorders, such as pain and cancer.

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Providers of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy must either be psychiatrists, clinical psychologists or regulated health professionals authorized to perform the restricted activity of psychosocial intervention who meet a standard of qualifications or experience, and are members of one of the following regulatory colleges:

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  • Alberta College of Occupational Therapists
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta
  • College of Alberta Psychologists
  • College of Registered Nurses of Alberta
  • College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta
  • Alberta College of Social Workers

Albertans experiencing addiction or mental health challenges can contact 211 Alberta for support, information and referrals.

The Canadian Mental Health Association Calgary can help with counselling and peer support. If you are feeling anxious or stressed in these uncertain times, call 403-297-1402.

  • Counselling and Peer Support call (403) 297-1402
  • Access Peer Support services via email – peer@cmha.calgary.ab.ca
  • CMHA Calgary Website – CLICK HERE

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