When the first illegal magic mushrooms dispensary opened in Toronto, it was a novelty. Then the second opened, with more planned, and now the city finds itself back where it was more than five years ago when illegal, or ‘grey market’, cannabis dispensaries were opening up at breakneck speed ahead of potential legalisation.
Toronto Police Service kept busy closing down the establishments that would open up again as soon as the coast was clear.
Fun Guyz, which opened up a shop in Parkdale, is one of the mushroom dispensaries operating in town. And, according to the owner, who chose to remain anonymous, business is good.
“We’re planning to open about five stores and we’re already doing online,” he said, over the phone. “And we’re doing 24-hour delivery.”
Fun Guys stocks a full line of “magic mushrooms,” including dried mushrooms, microdose capsules and tinctures, chocolates, nootropics, teas, jellies and more. The shop sources products from British Columbia and offers online sales and deliveries as well.
“The range is $25 to $190,” said the owner.
Magic mushrooms, according to the federal government of Canada, are “mushrooms that contain hallucinogens – usually psilocybin and psilocin.”
And, according to a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, they are absolutely illegal.
“Police enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and psilocybin is an illegal substance under the Act. Anyone selling or producing psilocybin would require an exemption from Health Canada, and without that, would be committing an offence and could be subject to charges under the CDSA,” read a statement from Toronto Police.
In addition, TPS is shutting down establishments of this nature as they are made aware of them.
“Police enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and psilocybin is an illegal substance under the Act. Anyone selling or producing psilocybin would require an exemption from Health Canada, and without that, would be committing an offence and could be subject to charges under the CDSA,” read a statement.
“When a report is made to Toronto Police about an illegal dispensary, it is investigated, and any decision to proceed with charges is based on the findings of that investigation. We also work with the City, as brick and mortar shops could also be subject to bylaw, permit and zoning infractions.”
But it isn’t quite that easy.
On the federal government website, it is made clear that the production, sale and possession of magic mushrooms is illegal in Canada. But also noted that “there is increasing interest in the potential therapeutic uses of magic mushrooms and of psilocybin, one of the active ingredients in magic mushrooms. While clinical trials with psilocybin have shown promising results, at this time, there are no approved therapeutic products containing psilocybin in Canada or elsewhere. Clinical trials are the most appropriate and effective way to advance research with unapproved drugs such as psilocybin while protecting the health and safety of patients.”
But, then, like with cannabis, there are loopholes that could keep growing.
Health Canada outlines a narrow pathway to legally obtaining unauthorized drugs like psilocybin.
“Patients suffering from mental health disorders should discuss potential treatment options with their health care provider. In some circumstances, with the support of a regulated health care practitioner, it may be possible for individuals to legally access psilocybin through one of three pathways,” states Health Canada. Options include participating in clinical trials, through a special access program via a health care practitioner or by obtaining an individual exemption.
The government describes an individual exemption as possible “in relation to a medical condition should include a letter of support from a medical practitioner. This letter of support should demonstrate that they have pursued other available legal routes to access psilocybin or demonstrate that these routes are not available or suitable to them, and provide diagnosis, the prognosis of patient’s medical illness, clinical evidence of psilocybin use (if applicable) and details of their recommended treatment regime.”
Lawyer Paul Lewin, who bills himself as a “cannabis lawyer” on his website, says the system it outdated and that’s one of the reasons why people are turning to these illegal dispensaries.
“I think that’s part of what’s driving these stores is the fact that access is flawed,” he said, explaining that, for example, the special access exemption requires a medical practitioner to take responsibility for the entire situation.
“It’s a very large application in which the doctor has to assume liability for the whole process,” Lewin said. “So many doctors are reluctant to do that.”
He also explained that it puts the final decision as to whether a person should get access in the hands of a government bureaucrat and not a medical doctor.
“The whole idea of a bureaucrat deciding what’s best for people and deciding what therapies you have to try before you get access to this therapy, which is really widely established, and which has a great safety profile, safety isn’t the issue,” Lewin explained.
Lewin said he is actually involved with a number of lawyers in a court case on this front, which involves a terminally ill person who has been stopped from obtaining a second SAP.
“He would be eligible for MAID (Medical Assistance In Dying), he could end his life, but he can’t try psilocybin,” he added. “So it’s pretty stupid. That’s the SAP.”
Back at the Fun Guys, the owner explains how the process works at his store.
“There is a waiver there, you’re gonna be filling out to self diagnose yourself. And we are only selling for medical purposes, not recreational,” he said. “And we also we need to see photo ID.”
The owner said they are prepared for the seemingly inevitable police raid to come, and said if he gets shut down, he will just open up again.
“This is a medical protest we’re doing. We’re not gonna go down without a fight,” he said. “So these fellows that close down will open the next day, they try to kick us out, we’ll open up next door. This is something that we believe in, and I’m going all in for. Again, I’m just gonna do it for the people.”
He said everyone should do their own research and figure out what it’s about.
“I want people to go out and do their own research before consuming psilocybin,” he said. “I feel that’s the safest and the fairest way. Not just like these doctors that prescribe you medication and tell you you need to take it and you’re pretty much attached.”
He also added that the Fun Guys are planning some charity events, and there will be a lot going on with marketing to get the word out on the benefits of psilocybin.
Outside of the illegal dispensaries world, there is a lot of active and official research into the benefits of psilocybin right now, some right here in Toronto.
In 2022, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has just been awarded Canada’s first federal grant to study psilocybin — the chemical component of “magic mushrooms”— with regard to its effect on treatment-resistant depression.
“There has been a growing interest and body of knowledge regarding the use of psychedelic drugs for the treatment of mental illness and addictions,” said Dr. Ishrat Husain, Head of the CAMH Clinical Trials Unit and principal investigator of the new CAMH study. “Previous clinical trials have reported large and sustained antidepressant effects of psilocybin when combined with intensive psychotherapy. If this study shows that psilocybin is still effective at treating depression without inducing a psychedelic state, it could remove the time-intensive and costly need for psychological support during the treatment. This would make the treatment more accessible both for healthcare funders, and for those seeking treatment.”
CAMH researchers have already led studies involving psilocybin and ketamine. Recently, CAMH was the only Canadian site for the world’s largest clinical trial of psilocybin in mental health to date. This study was instrumental in providing further support for psilocybin as an emerging treatment for depression.
There is also a Psychedelic Studies Research Program (PSRP) at the University of Toronto Mississauga, which is currently conducting a clinical trial of microdosing using very low doses of psilocybin.
Ronan Levy, executive chairman of Field Trip Health, a psychedelic therapy clinic in Toronto, explained in a past article for StreetsofToronto that he thinks anything that can be achieved in conventional therapy can be achieved faster through psychedelic therapies, including mushrooms.
“Those conventional approaches take a lot longer, whereas you can go a lot deeper, further and faster when you pair therapy with psychedelics,” Levy explained.
As micro-dosing and psychedelic therapy with mushrooms becomes more mainstream in Canada, some suggest it is only a matter of time before it goes the way of cannabis and is legalised.
We know where the Fun Guyz stand.
“I think it will be legalised in about three years, it’s gonna be normalized within a year,” he said. “And I think a lot of people are going to be microdosing daily and it’s going to be taking over the pharmaceuticals very shortly.”
Lewis said the biggest impediment is politics.
“Probably like cannabis, politicians who are worried that it might offend some or that it might not be a vote getter, will wait,” he said. “I think it is a vote-getter though. I think polls seem to suggest that medicinal use is widely accepted, but that’s probably the biggest part.”