Alberta’s first psychedelic therapy clinic comes to Calgary

The hope at ATMA and among other facilitators across the country is to expand that therapy beyond palliative patients to help those suffering from mental illness

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Tuning in, turning on and dropping out of chronic misery is the aim of Alberta’s first psychedelic therapy clinic that’s opened in Calgary.

Six weeks after conducting the province’s first federally sanctioned psilocybin treatment for a palliative care patient — Airdrie’s Tony White — those facilitators have established the ATMA Calgary Urban Journey Clinic in a 5,000-square-foot space in a professional building across from North Hill Centre.

With its plush furniture and cosy decor, the clinic will be decidedly non-sterile and hopefully a harbinger of a wider acceptance of the unconventional therapy, said ATMA co-founder David Harder.

“It’s set up not to be clinical, but more homey and comfortable,” said Harder.

“We’re going to keep pushing this door open as long as there’s a crack and the federal government keeps this door open.”

For now, that crack is Health Canada’s granting of so-called Section 56 exemptions that allow for individual therapy sessions using psilocybin — or still-illicit magic mushrooms — for the chronically ill.

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The arrival of the clinic is an expression of confidence that Ottawa will not only continue granting those exemptions but accelerate them, with the hope legislation will pave the way for a much wider therapeutic use of psychedelics that would ultimately include prescribing the substance, said Harder.

In anticipation of that, the facility will also serve as a training centre for psychedelic therapists.

David Harder, co-CEO of ATMA. ATMA’s Calgary Journey Clinic will house Canada’s first palliative care program based on psychedelic-assisted therapy as it expands the use of legal psychedelic therapy on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Twenty-three candidates are booked to undergo that instruction starting next month, said Harder.

And over the next two weeks, two more palliative care patients will be the clinic’s first clients, he added.

“It’s unlike any other medicine because it’s experiential,” said Harder.

Psilocybin procured from black market sources are ingested by patients under the supervision of therapists in a musical-serenaded session that can last several hours.

White, who underwent a treatment Jan. 1, marvelled at how the experience improved the mental, emotional and physical burden imposed on him by bladder cancer.

His wife, Rebecca, said the therapy was “life-changing” for the time he had left with his family.

The 46-year-old died Jan. 20.

“He was happy and literally able to live rather than take two weeks to die,” said Harder.

Tony White participates in legal psychedelic-assisted therapy on Jan. 1, 2021. The therapy is intended to help White deal with the challenges that come with stage 4 cancer. Photo by ATMA Journey Centers

The hope at ATMA and among other facilitators across the country is to expand that therapy beyond palliative patients to help those suffering from mental illness.

Last month, former Canadian Armed Forces soldier Scott Atkinson of Smiths Falls, Ont., applied for a Section 56 exemption for treatment of PTSD in hopes of becoming the country’s first military veteran to be granted one.

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Another goal, said Harder, is to see a wider array of psychedelics made more readily available for legal therapeutic use.

“MDMA would really be better suited for treatment of post-traumatic stress,” said Harder, who’s also planning a rural retreat in the foothills west of Calgary.

“LSD is another one that needs to be addressed and legalized . . . there’s a lot of different molecules that can be used.”

For now, Harder said there appears to be willingness among federal officials to consider making at least psilocybin more readily available.

“The tools for them are pretty limited right now to Section 56,” he said.

“We’re in for the long haul — this isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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