Psilocybin Therapy Is Now Covered by Health Insurance in Quebec
This week, Quebec became the first governing medical authority in Canada to publicly fund medical psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, advancing the acceptance of psychedelic therapies. The ruling establishes a precedent for other Canadian provinces to follow and is significant in the acknowledgement of psilocybin, the main hallucinogenic in “magic mushrooms.”
TheraPsil, a non-profit organization that encourages the advancement of psilocybin treatments, said the following in their statement on December 15, 2020: “This decision is a huge step forward for the use of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy as a legitimate medical treatment. It not only provides greater access to this potentially life-changing treatment for patients in Quebec, but it also sets a precedent for other provinces to follow suit.”
What’s all the hype about psilocybin-assisted therapy, you may wonder? Good question. Well, it turns out there’s a lot to be hyped up about!
Why psilocybin-assisted therapy?
Studies and clinical research on psychedelics, including psilocybin, have revealed that the substances may be therapeutically useful, especially for severe mental health issues like depression, addiction, and anxiety. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was proven to be an efficient and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 individuals with severe depressive disorder, based on research published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020. According to a different study that was released in 2016, psilocybin treatment resulted in significant and long-lasting drops in anxiety and sadness in cancer patients who were facing a serious prognosis.
Despite the fact that psilocybin has the ability to treat major mental health issues, Canada has very little access to either the substance itself or psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. Some terminally ill patients suffering from palliative depression have been waiting more than a year for a response from Health Canada, the country’s health agency, in order to legally take psilocybin. Even when patients have a legal exemption, healthcare practitioners have been unable to bill for the treatment due to a lack of codes to correctly process costs for two therapists, a normal practice for psychedelic-assisted therapy put in place to help assure patient safety and ethical treatment.
Things changed when two medical professionals—Dr. Houman Farzin and Dr. Jean-François Stephan—completed psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy treatment for a patient who had been granted legal access by Health Canada and successfully billed for and received payment from the province of Quebec. The patient was treated in June of this year and has a medical exemption to consume psilocybin.
Following the therapy, Dr. Stephan gathered data and presented a statement demonstrating the psilocybin’s medical efficacy and safety, which was signed by 15 of his coworkers. Noting that two doctors could not simultaneously bill for the same patient under the current codes, he claimed that both doctors involved in the therapy should be compensated. He added that research has shown that individuals who are legally able to get psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy have a medical need for it.
In order to change the codes, Dr. Stephan collaborated with the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ), which oversees general practitioners in the province. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was recognized by the professional association as a medically insured service, allowing the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) to change the existing codes and charge for the therapy session.
“I think it’s amazing news that patients have covered access to such an important treatment option and it’s an encouraging sign for psychedelic medicine. Quebec has chosen to align with the science in regards to psychedelic medicine and recognize it as a medically indicated service in specific circumstances. They didn’t delay this unnecessarily,” said Stephan. “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. I’m pleased this happened in Quebec, and I hope other provinces follow in their footsteps.”
Robert Foxman, the patient Drs. Farzin and Stephan, treated with psilocybin-assisted therapy, praised the provincial government organization that authorized insurance coverage for his medical care.
“I’m extremely happy that RAMQ, the medical billing department of the Quebec government, set a precedent with my June 11th Section 56 psilocybin session by paying both of my wonderful guides, Dr. Houman Farzin and Dr. Jean-François Stephan, for their well-earned work,” Foxman said. “My hope is that many more deserving people like me will be able to undergo this therapy now that it’s fully covered in Quebec, and I would like to see other Canadian provinces step up to the plate and follow Quebec’s suit.”
Thomas Hartle, 54, of Saskatchewan, was the first patient in Quebec to get approval for magic mushroom therapy. Thomas claims that when he indulges in a psilocybin therapy session, the distractions, noises, and worries of his terminal colon cancer disappear.
Hartle is one of the few Canadians who has undergone authorized psychedelics psychotherapy for a mental health illness since Health Canada eased access to psilocybin in January.
“Before the treatment, it’s like you’re sitting in your car. It’s summer. You have your windows down; you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic; it’s noisy. It’s unpleasant,” said Hartle. “Your favourite song is on the radio, but you can’t actually appreciate any of it because all of the other distractions are preventing you from even noticing that the radio is on. After a psilocybin treatment,(it’s like) you’re still in your car, in traffic, but you have the windows up; the air conditioning is on and it’s quiet. It’s just you and the music.”
So there you go, everyone. If you were worried that 2022 wouldn’t end well, Quebec’s medical professionals can now help sufferers receive psilocybin-assisted therapy. This represents a huge shift in the way mental health is handled and presents new opportunities for people who are dealing with mental illness. It would be fascinating to observe how the news is received in other provinces and whether or not they decide to adopt the same strategy. Whatever the case, it is evident that society’s attitude toward psychedelics is evolving and that interest in their therapeutic potential is expanding.
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