It’s easier to get access to an assisted death in Canada than to a treatment that could make life bearable, according to the lawyer for a Calgary man fighting for legal access to a psychedelic medicine to treat excruciating cluster headaches.

  • Life-Saving Treatment Denied:

    Despite suffering from agonizing cluster headaches, Jody Lance's plea for legal access to Psilocybin was initially denied by Health Canada due to alleged insufficient evidence of its efficacy, highlighting a critical gap in compassionate healthcare access.

  • Court Overturns Unreasonable Decision

    The Federal Court ruled that Health Canada's denial was "unreasonable" and violated Lance's Charter rights, emphasizing the need for the health ministry to consider patients' legal rights and the emerging clinical evidence supporting Psilocybin's benefits.

  • Systemic Hypocrisy and Call for Urgent Reform:

    The case underscores the absurdity that it's easier to access medical assistance in dying (MAID) than potentially life-saving treatments like Psilocybin, calling for urgent reform to decriminalize natural substances and prioritize patient well-being over bureaucratic obstacles.

Imagine living with a pain so excruciating that it earns the nickname "suicide headaches."

This is the reality for Jody Lance, a 51-year-old Calgary man suffering from debilitating cluster headaches. Despite the extreme nature of his condition, Lance's desperate plea for legal access to Psilocybin—a compound found in magic mushrooms—was denied by Health Canada.

This denial, rooted in an alleged lack of sufficient evidence, was overturned on May 24 by Ottawa Federal Court Judge Simon Fothergill, who found the decision "unreasonable" and "unintelligible."

A battle for basic human rights.

What makes this situation even more egregious is the seemingly blatant hypocrisy in Health Canada's stance. While it readily grants access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) for individuals with grievous and irremediable conditions, it places insurmountable barriers for those seeking life-saving treatments like Psilocybin.

Lance, who has tried countless other medications to no avail, found significant relief in small, non-hallucinogenic doses of magic mushrooms. Yet, despite the support of his neurologist and emerging clinical evidence, Health Canada dismissed his request.

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Ottawa human rights lawyer Nicholas Pope, who helped prepare Lance's exemption application, then took Health Canada's decision to the Ottawa Federal Court, arguing convincingly that denying access to Psilocybin infringes on Lance’s Charter rights to life, liberty, and security. The judge agreed, noting that Health Canada "wholly disregarded" these legal arguments. This oversight is not just a bureaucratic misstep; it’s a direct assault on the rights of individuals to make informed decisions about their own health.

Pain from cluster headaches.

The Mayo Clinic describes cluster headaches as a rare, painful form of headache often involving "extreme sharp or stabbing pain" often around the eyes, in the head or neck that can last for weeks. According to experts, the exact causes remain unclear.

Lance’s lawyer, Nicholas Pope, described cluster headaches as "one of the most painful conditions known to humanity." He noted that some studies comparing pain levels of different conditions suggest they are more painful than gunshot wounds, kidney stones, or childbirth.

Fothergill cited experts in his ruling who described cluster headaches as "capable of inflicting the most severe pain known to science."

In recent years there's been emerging evidence suggesting Psilocybin can help relieve pain for some who suffer from the headaches, with at least one clinical trial observing a reduction in cluster headache attacks in participants who were given the drug.

Psilocybin: Proven potential, unjustly prohibited.

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."

Read: The Truth About Mushrooms & Meds: Are They Safe to Mix?

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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.

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.

Criminalizing nature: The injustice of medical bureaucracy.

The Canadian government's stance is a glaring contradiction. On one hand, it facilitates MAID for those in extreme suffering; on the other, it withholds potentially life-saving treatments that could alleviate such suffering.

Lance’s case starkly illustrates this contradiction. He doesn't want to die; he wants to live without unbearable pain. But the government’s hardline policies make it easier for him to end his life than to access a treatment that could make his life bearable.

The broader implication of this case is the criminalization of natural substances that have been used for centuries for their healing properties.

Psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound, is non-addictive and impossible to overdose on. Yet, it remains a controlled substance, placing it out of reach for those who desperately need it. This is a profound injustice.

Nature should not be criminalized, especially when it holds the key to alleviating human suffering.

A call for change.

The ruling in favor of Jody Lance is a significant step forward, but it is only the beginning.

Health Canada must reconsider its policies and align them with both scientific evidence and basic human rights. Patients should not have to endure a Kafkaesque journey through the courts to access treatments that can save their lives. The decriminalization of natural substances like Psilocybin is not just a medical necessity; it is a moral imperative.

It is high time we collectively reconsider our approach to natural, plant-based medicines. The fight of Jody Lance is emblematic of a broader struggle against an unjust system that prioritizes bureaucracy over humanity. We must stand in solidarity with those who suffer and demand that our health policies reflect compassion, reason, and respect for the fundamental rights of all individuals.

The decriminalization of nature is not just about legal access; it is about affirming the right to health and life itself.

How dare we allow such an injustice to persist?

Note: If you're looking for a psychedelic-assisted therapist that can help you ease into your Psilocybin mushroom practice, check out our very full and helpful directory of psychedelic therapists in Canada.

Read: Psilocybin & Cluster Headaches: What You Need to Know First

Read: How to Treat Cluster Headaches with Psilocybin Mushrooms

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