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Could magic mushrooms be the next drug legalized in Canada?

LONDON - JULY 18:  Magic Mushrooms sit in a fridge on July 18, 2005 in London, England. The sale of fresh mushrooms has been prohibited as of today due to the reclassification of the drug to Class A.  (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
Magic Mushrooms sit in a fridge on July 18, 2005 in London, England. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Now that Canadians have access to legalized cannabis, a Vancouver-based activist is focused on administering another substance that’s said to have both medicinal and recreational benefits: magic mushrooms.

Dana Larsen is behind the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary, an online shop that sells microdoses of psilocybin, the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms. Larsen explains that the shop sells 25 ml, 50 ml and 100 ml doses - about five to 10 per cent of what you’d take if you wanted to experience hallucinations.

“The idea behind microdosing is to get the medical benefits of mushrooms without the intensity or psychoactivity you’d get in a bigger dose,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “You use it a few times a week for a couple of months. It’s anti-addictive - you can’t take it everyday or it’ll stop working.”

While magic mushrooms are illegal in Canada, psilocybin is being studied for its potential to treat mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, amongst others.

In the U.S., Denver and Oakland have decriminalized magic mushrooms. In Canada, there’s currently no therapeutic products containing psilocybin that have been approved.

Despite this, Larsen intends to open a storefront in Vancouver, similar to the one he opened for cannabis several decades ago. People interested in ordering from his online store must submit a notice of diagnosis for one of the ailments psilocybin is believed to help with, along with photo ID. The dispensary only sells to customers within Canada.

Larsen says Vancouver police are aware of his activities but he doesn’t expect much engagement with them since they’re busy focused on more pressing matters, like the fentanyl crisis.

“I don’t think the VPD has much interest in spending the time and resources to come after me when I’m only selling microdoses to people with a confirmed medical need,” he says, adding that Health Canada and other levels of enforcement could potentially pose challenges in the future.

“Hopefully no one out there thinks microdosing is really an issue to bother cracking down on me on this” he says. “But there is definitely a risk involved.”

The future of psilocybin in Canada

Jordan Donich, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer, says in order for magic mushrooms to go the same route as cannabis, it will need to get political support.

“That’s how cannabis became legal,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “That’s what has to come from the grassroots of it, if it’s going to be legal.”

He says if there is political support to legalize magic mushrooms, the process will have to shadow the same process that cannabis went through to be fully legalized for recreational and medicinal consumption.

“It will probably have to follow the same blueprint that cannabis went through,” he says. “Not only for consumption but all the other ways it can impact the laws, like driving.”

Donich says that if a substance is proven to have medicinal benefits, it’s quite likely that it could be legally consumed for that purpose. The question is, are we going to have the same kind of public acceptance and accessibility as we do with cannabis?

“Then we have to ask ourselves from a policy perspective, is it a slippery slope,” he asks. “From a broader, policy objectives: What does it mean for crime or productivity?”

If magic mushrooms are the next substance to be legalized, voters are going to have to put a candidate in power for it to happen, Donich says.

“Because if that’s what the voters want, that’s the way it should be and that’s where it starts,” he says.

Larsen says some activists will be in court later this year to challenge psilocybin prohibition under Section 56 of the controlled drug act, which allows people to be exempt from any of the drug laws, and is typically used for research purposes.

“It will take years but I expect that this legal challenge will lead to a change in the law, especially for microdoses, when there’s no psychoactivity,” he says. “I find it hard to see a lot of opposition to that.”