Therapsil CEO Spencer Hawkswell Speaks To Health Canada’s Intent To Deny Section 56 Exemptions To Healthcare Practitioners

Last week, Health Canada notified non-profit organization Therapsil that it intended to deny Section 56 exemptions for 130 healthcare practitioners seeking psilocybin access and training. 

Since 2019, Therapsil has successfully advocated for patients and healthcare practitioners interested in pursuing psilocybin therapy and helped a group of practitioners obtain exemptions in December 2020. The Dales Report sat down with CEO Spencer Hawkswell on Friday to try and understand the potential impact of the federal health agency’s intent to deny.

Hawkswell said 130 healthcare practitioners have taken part in the non-profit’s training program and are waiting to complete the final steps, which involve participating in a psilocybin-assisted therapy session. 

“On top of that, there are about 1,000 other healthcare practitioners who are waiting to start the training, and then 1,500 patients on our waiting lists that are depending on these trained healthcare practitioners, so they can be supported with Section 56 exemptions, or SAP exemptions,” said Hawskwell.

“A lot of people are really upset, and I think the sentiment among everyone is that this decision is not a compassionate one, and it lacks foresight.”

The CEO clarified that Health Canada hasn’t officially denied the requests yet, and that its decision won’t be official until 14 days after issuing letters of intent to deny (February 14). 

“[We weren’t] expecting this, because we all exist in Canada under the same Charter of Rights and Freedoms… so why have we created two tiers of healthcare practitioners in this country: those who get exemptions and those who get ignored?”

Hawkswell also said that in addition the 130 healthcare practitioners, several palliative patients who had requested exemptions also received letters of intent from Health Canada indicating that their requests would be denied.

Off-camera, I asked Hawkswell if Health Canada’s recent amendments to the Special Access Program are related to these denials. 

He pointed out that as it stands, although a class exemption has been issued for practitioners, agents, pharmacists, and others involved with psilocybin and MDMA in relation to a SAP authorization, the SAP doesn’t provide access for training purposes. As for patients, even if it is the agency’s goal to funnel requests through the Special Access Program, so far, the SAP doesn’t appear to be an answer to providing access, either.

Hawkswell also noted after our interview that Health Canada has indicated practitioners interested in pursuing training with psilocybin should do so by accessing clinical trials, however with thousands of practitioners on Therapsil’s waiting list, it’s unlikely the clinical trial path will provide the type of broad access it is looking for.

Watch the quick nine-minute interview with Hawkswell, who explained how important this training is for both therapists and patients, and how Therapsil plans to proceed if Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos decides to deny the exemptions.

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