BC Centre on Substance Use to begin studying psychedelics as treatment option for addictions

published on April 21, 2017

The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) is planning clinical trials set to begin this year to study the effectiveness of psychedelic-assisted therapy in treating opioid and other substance use disorders—an approach not investigated by Canadian researchers in decades.

The newly established BCCSU is seeking funding from granting agencies and private donors to support the clinical trials, which would study whether psilocybin and other psychedelics, also known as hallucinogens, can be safely and effectively used as adjuncts to psychotherapy in the treatment of substance use disorders.

“If we are able to raise the funding to do this work, these clinical trials represent an opportunity for new breakthroughs in medical science and substance use,” said Dr. Kenneth Tupper, a director at the BCCSU. “The findings have the potential to inform treatment interventions for a range substance use and behavioural addictions, as well as concurrent mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.”

Canada used to be a world-leader in research related to psychedelics in the 1950s and early 1960s before the substances were made illegal. Recently published findings by international scientists have sparked renewed interest, including clinical research conducted at Johns Hopkins University which showed promise in using psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat tobacco dependence and similar promising findings from the University of New Mexico in the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Regulatory restrictions to research in Canada have showed signs of easing recently and innovative treatment approaches have received support across the political spectrum. The federal Conservatives under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for instance, granted approval to allow for a trial of MDMA (known on the street as “ecstasy”) assisted psychotherapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We know that counselling can be important in increasing motivation in the context of addiction treatment, and motivational enhancement therapy using these substances as part of a structured counselling session has immense potential,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, Director of Research at BCCSU and Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC). “The research that has been done to date using these approaches in tobacco and alcohol addiction treatment has been promising. Given the limited number of tools used to help support addiction treatment, we urgently need to further our understanding of how these substances may help heal underlying trauma that can be such a barrier to recovery.”

Dr. Tupper will present research and participate in a panel discussion on psychedelics and policy at the international Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California conference being held from April 21-23. The conference is a global gathering of leading researchers, doctors, psychologists, and policymakers in psychedelic science and medicine.

Those interested to support the BCCSU are encouraged to contact the team through the BC Centre on Substance Use website at www.bccsu.ca.

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About the BC Centre on Substance Use

The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) is a provincially networked organization with a mandate to develop, help implement, and evaluate evidence-based approaches to substance use. Located at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver with researchers based at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, the BCCSU aims to build upon the success of its partner organization, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, by improving the integration of best practices and care across the continuum of responses to substance use through the collaborative development of policies, guidelines, and standards. With the support of the province of BC, BCCSU aims to transform substance use policies, programs, and services by translating research into education and care guidance, thereby serving and improving the health of all British Columbians.

For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Kevin Hollett, BCCSU
[email protected]