Over the past few years, access to mushrooms containing psilocybin has become much easier in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. There are now four dispensaries that sell psilocybin mushrooms in the city, including two locations downtown, one located on Commercial Drive, and one located on the Downtown Eastside. The prevalence of these dispensaries has made it much easier to acquire psilocybin mushrooms for recreational use and appears to mirror the rise of pot cafes in Vancouver during the city’s cannabis movement during the 2000s and 2010s.
While psilocybin is an illegal substance in Canada, it is classified as a Schedule III substance according to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). This means that psilocybin must be sold by a licensed pharmacy, but it may be sold from the self-selection section of the pharmacy. As only dugs unscheduled by the CDSA may be sold in Canada without professional supervision, these psilocybin dispensaries in Vancouver bend (break?) the law in the name of psilocybin reform. According to the City of Vancouver, there are currently no federal, provincial, or municipal regulations that allows recreational sales of psilocybin mushrooms.
These dispensaries are able to operate because the Vancouver Police Department has admitted that it is more focused on “violent and organized criminals who produce and traffic harmful opioids, which fuel gang violence and contribute to the ongoing health crisis of illicit drug deaths.” However, those connected to the sale of psilocybin can still face charges and other penalties including orders, fines, and prosecution. For example, a business license cannot be issued to any establishment that sells psilocybin products.
The main contributing factor to the rise of psilocybin mushroom dispensaries in British Columbia is increasing demand for the substance. Psilocybin research has increased recently, and studies have shown the psilocybin can effectively treat mental health conditions such as depression and PTSD, as well as addiction. These positive qualities have led to a paradigm shift across North America regarding psilocybin use and regulation, and institutions in Vancouver are leading much of this groundbreaking research. This shift in perspective has manifested in looser psilocybin regulations throughout the United States, including Oregon—whose voters approved Measure 109 which outlines the organization of a framework to regulate legal psilocybin mushrooms.
Currently, the process for accessing psilocybin legally in Canada is quite arduous. The process consists of requesting a federal exemption to access medical psilocybin, and each request must be approved by a federal health minister. This process has allowed over 80 Canadians access to psilocybin mushrooms, mostly to people with terminal illnesses or depression that resists other forms of treatment. However, this process is grossly inadequate to effectively distribute the benefits of psilocybin to those who need them. As such, people often seek to access psilocybin illegally. When people are forced to search for psilocybin underground, people may obtain substances without the same quality or safety specifications as regulated medical substances.
Ultimately, the recent rise of psilocybin mushroom dispensaries in British Columbia—and general lack of deterrence—shows a growing demand and a paradigm shift towards greater embrace of psilocybin throughout North America– mirroring the ongoing attitude shift towards cannabis and other psychedelics. This is an encouraging trend that we are excited to follow.