After beating what doctors told her was terminal cancer, Mona Strelaeff had hoped her health complications were behind her.
Instead, what followed were years of crippling depression and anxiety.
At the centre of her mental health struggle: childhood trauma, and the continued fear of her own mortality.
She sought an array of pharmaceutical treatments in Canada and the U.S., but none yielded any desired results.
“I’ve been on all kinds of [anti-depressants],” she said. “I would have terrible side effects, or they would take me to the extreme — I would cry all the time, or I wouldn’t sleep.”
That was until last November, when she received federal approval for psilocybin-assisted therapy. Psilocybin is the psychedelic component within magic mushrooms.
She says she dove deep into a psychedelic experience, where she revisited her childhood, and came to terms with many demons of the past.
“When [the doctor] gave me the treatment and I came out of it in a place of peace,” she said. “My anxiety was basically gone. And to this day I still feel at peace. I’m not afraid of death.”
Psychedelics are a growing area of exploration within the mental health field, and Health Canada has approved clinical trials measuring their efficacy. A handful of B.C. companies are at the forefront of administering treatments, and researching ways to make them more accessible.
Banking on breakthroughs
For Payton Nyquvest, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy was a last-ditch effort to remedy severe chronic pain and the depression that came along with it.
“The Western health-care system just couldn’t rectify what was going on,” he said.
Nyquvest is the founder of Numinus, a B.C.-based publicly traded company specializing in psychedelic research, production, and distribution. It’s one of the few companies with a Health Canada licence to do so.
Later this summer, Numinus is expected to complete a clinical trial on a psilocybin extract it has developed. Dr. Evan Wood is the company’s chief medical officer. He took a leave of absence from his post at the B.C. Centre for Substance Use to assume the role.
“In addition to assessing safety, that study will also be measuring the psychedelic effects in terms of the type of experience that it brings about in people that are healthy,” said Wood.
Wood points to other studies as reasons to be optimistic, including work at Johns Hopkins University that showed psilocybin as an effective treatment for both depression and tobacco addiction.
“It’s very much a paradigm shift and really, I think the most exciting area in mental health and addiction right now,” he said.
Wood says the jury is…