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A 51-year-old Calgary man who suffers debilitating cluster headaches has won a Federal Court battle forcing Health Canada to reconsider his bid for legal access to psilocybin to treat his extreme pain. 

Ottawa Federal Court Judge Simon Fothergill, on May 24, granted an application for judicial review of Health Canada's denial of Jody Lance's bid for legal access to medical grade psilocybin — the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms — to manage pain associated with the headaches, which is so bad they have earned the nickname "suicide headaches."


In 2022, Peter McAllister, the medical director of the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache, wrote then Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in support of Canada allowing legal exemptions for the use of psilocybin for cluster headaches, which he described as an "agonizingly painful condition that can push patients to suicide to escape the suffering."

McAllister wrote that in his experience, "many cluster headache patients obtain outstanding results using psilocybin-containing mushrooms," which he said helped prevent episodes with little danger or side effects.

Pope, the human rights lawyer, says it was the same for Lance.

"He tried a whole laundry list of medications and dozens of different combinations," Pope said. "Some worked for a brief period of time and then stopped working, or even made the headaches worse."

He argued that by denying Lance access to psilocybin, federal authorities infringed on his Charter right to make reasonable medical choices regarding his physical and mental wellbeing. 


Last week's ruling gave the health ministry 14 days to reconsider Lance's request and to take his Charter rights into more careful consideration. Fothergill called the decision to deny Lance access to the drug "unreasonable" and "unintelligible."

Health Canada told CBC News via email that it has noted the court's decision and will comply with the judgment.

In an email to CBC News, Lance said he hopes this ruling helps others like him who are seeking safe, legal options to avoid what he called an "unnecessarily difficult journey." 

"It's a first step in the right direction," wrote Lance, a former land surveyor.

Spencer Hawkswell, president of the psychedelic advocacy group TheraPsil, described the ruling as a major step forward that makes clear that "what these patients are asking for is not ridiculous."


The ruling noted that this infringement was exacerbated by delays and risked Lance's life due to his suicidal ideation and the fact that he could potentially be eligible for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Pope says the process for becoming approved to use psilocybin legally in Canada seems more difficult than applying for MAID.

"He's found a treatment that works for him and makes life bearable. But it's absurd: If he couldn't get access to this treatment, then MAID really would be a legitimate possibility."

"Mr. Lance should be allowed to use this for medical purposes with dignity and not be called a criminal for it," Pope said.

Edited by devonrex
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Posted (edited)

A bit of an update

'Suicide headache' patient granted magic mushroom access after Health Canada U-turn


After a federal judge’s scolding for its “unreasonable” and “unintelligible” handling of a Calgary man’s bid for legal access to psilocybin for excruciating headaches, Health Canada is backing down.

The federal health agency has granted cluster headache patient Jody Lance emergency access to psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in “magic mushrooms.”


Lance’s win comes two weeks after Federal Court Judge Simon Fothergill ruled Health Canada wholly disregarded legal arguments that Lance has a Charter right to medical grade psilocybin.

Health Canada’s initial refusal to grant Lance access to the drug under its Special Access Program also lacked the “requisite degree of justification, intelligibility and transparency,” Fothergill wrote.

Health Canada’s assessors tried to argue that other modalities hadn’t been ruled out, drawing criticism from Lance’s legal team that it’s easier to qualify for euthanasia in Canada than it is to access novel therapies for headache relief.

In order to be eligible for MAID — medical aid in dying — people don’t have to first exhaust all available treatments options.

Health Canada’s reversal comes after Fothergill ordered a “redetermination” by a different decision-maker. Health Canada had 14 days to render a new decision, a deadline that expired last Friday.


Edited by devonrex
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