Magic mushrooms: production facility in BC, one of the few licenses to grow

In the south of BC there is a new 20,000 square foot manufacturing facility where a particular product generates a lot of buzz.

Psilocybin – more commonly known as magic mushrooms – is legally grown here in a high-tech lab, where growers hope to contribute to medical research that suggests these mushrooms may have enormous medical benefits.

“There are a lot of clinical trials currently underway showing the potential of these mushrooms,” Todd Henderson told CTV National News.

Henderson is head grower for a company called Optimi Health. It is one of the few Canadian companies now federally approved for the production, production and export of psychedelic mushrooms.

Although there are currently only a few of these companies, more and more companies are rushing to position themselves as certified suppliers of psilocybin.

The push comes as scientists are increasingly investigating its therapeutic benefits, including for treating depression, substance use and end-of-life distress.

“We’re going to be able to provide that secure facility so the researchers can then study more deeply to see well. Let’s see where this is going,” Bill Ciprick, CEO of Optimi Health, told CTV National News.

A study published in February found that psilocybin therapy was associated with symptom relief for up to a year in adults suffering from major depressive disorder.

At this time, according to Health Canada, there are no approved therapeutic products containing psilocybin, in Canada or elsewhere. But in January 2022, Health Canada modified their Special Access Program (SAP) to allow doctors to request psilocybin for use in psychotherapy or other treatment plans, making it easier for doctors to access the restricted drug.

And in April, the first patients in Canada were able to receive psilocybin treatment through SAP for end-of-life anxiety.

Thomas Hartle, one of those patients who was given access due to his terminal colon cancer diagnosis, told CTV News in May that access to this treatment made a huge difference to his quality of life.

“The improvement in my mental health is so night and day that it would be hard to say all the things it does for me,” he said.

“I still have cancer. I still struggle with what it does physically, but there are days when I don’t even think about it. What would you do to have a day where you just feel normal?”

These mind-altering substances are used in a controlled, clinical setting as part of psychotherapy.

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, enters the body through the same receptors as serotonin, a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter, carries messages throughout the body and acts as a mood stabilizer. People with depression often have low levels of serotonin, and psychedelics like psilocybin have been found to increase brain connectivity, allowing those messages to be sent more easily than before.

Some research has shown that one or two doses of psilocybin in a therapeutic setting can make significant, long-lasting differences for people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder.

Ciprick said magic mushrooms open up more options for doctors looking at how to treat a patient.

“What psilocybin offers is another opportunity for doctors,” he said. “They need a lot of tools in their toolbox, and this gives them another one.”

While Optimi also grows unregulated mushrooms, the main focus is growing the psychedelic variety for medical use and research.

“Anyone who wants to develop a drug that’s going to help people — that’s who we’re growing for,” Henderson said.

The company already has an agreement with the University of Calgary’s IMPACT Accelerator Clinical Trials Program to clinically test their psilocybin products and their potential health benefits.

And in late June, the company announced it was partnering with a Calgary-based clinic group to supply them with magic mushrooms for psychedelic therapies, provided patients are approved through SAP.

About 2,000 kilograms of dried psilocybin can be produced each month.

Although the company is currently collaborating with Canadian researchers, the goal is to eventually share their magic mushrooms worldwide.

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