Truffle Report Looks at a Public/Private Psychedelic Partnership, and the Challenges of Fundraising in the Space
- ATMA Journey Centers Inc. became the first private company to conduct a legal psychedelic therapy session, establishing a beginning of a new model in the Canadian psychedelic sphere.
- While ATMA and the Syntac Institute partnered to pay for this psychedelic therapy, TheraPsil has been raising money through a public funding model.
- Studying psychedelic substances and treatments can be prohibitively expensive.
For the first time in Canada, a private enterprise —ATMA Journey Centers— successfully carried out psilocybin-assisted therapy, treating an Alberta man suffering from end-of-life distress as the result of a terminal cancer diagnosis. While the patient chose a private company for his therapy, a not-for-profit organization —Syntac Institute— facilitated the exemption from Health Canada. Proceedings have since been initiated through a non-binding letter of intent by Mind Cure Health Inc. to acquire an ownership interest in ATMA.
The use of psilocybin and other psychedelic-assisted therapies has been gaining prominence in Canada ever since Health Canada granted four exemptions in August 2020. Concurrently, new clinical studies continue to surface, showing the benefits of psilocybin in treating mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. TheraPsil, a nonprofit organization, has facilitated all of the previous exemptions while also conducting psilocybin-assisted therapies for its palliative and non-palliative patients.
Syntac Insititute, formally registered in 2019, followed TheraPsil in helping palliative patient Anthony White get exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in December 2020. However, White’s therapy was conducted by a private firm in January 2021.
TheraPsil and Syntac share a similar vision to help all Canadians access psychedelic-assisted therapy for their mental health distress, depression, or PTSD. The cost of the treatment stands as one of the major hindrances to the process, leading these companies to search for alternatives to pay their bills.
Now, we’re seeing a collaboration between a private and a not-for-profit company to help provide psychedelic therapy, while TheraPsil is opting for public funding.
Psychedelic Research is Expensive
Studying a restricted substance like psilocybin for medical purposes is an expensive proposition. John Hopkins scientists told Quartz that they paid between $7000 and $10,000 per gram of psilocybin for their studies. The substances used for experiments are expected to meet high quality standards, and are synthesized to the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.
Moreover, the cost of resources can be a burden on nonprofit organizations. In an earlier interview, TheraPsil CEO Spencer Hawkswell shared with Truffle that while they’re excited to roll out the training programme for the healthcare professionals who received Section 56 exemptions from Health Canada in December 2020, “it will take a lot of time and a lot of resources. That’s going to be expensive.”
To help manage the cost, Thomas Hartle, Canada’s first patient to legally undergo psilocybin-assisted therapy via TheraPsil, grew his own psilocybin mushrooms for the session.
In some cases, federal governments have stepped up to fund psychedelic therapy research. Germany has initiated federal funding for its psilocybin study EPIsoDE.
While federal funding may be of help, it has not yet been forthcoming in Canada. Scientists and not-for-profit organizations have been trying several alternatives.
Syntac’s Collaboration with ATMA
Anthony (Tony) White, a palliative patient from Alberta, chose to opt for a private company’s services while a non-profit helped him in seeking exemption under Section 56.
“Syntac is simply a non-profit with a mission of bringing access to psychedelic medicine to Canadians. ATMA Journey Centers is a private company that seized the opportunity and the need for providing a deeper, more immersive experience for clients related to healing and transformation,” Greg Habstritt, Executive Director of Syntac Institute tells Truffle Report.
The two companies are not legally bound. Explaining the need for collaboration, Habstritt says, “Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s practical because, without the commercial scalability for this kind of service, we are going to have a hard time getting the service out to the community.”
ATMA is the first commercial provider in Canada to facilitate psychedelic-assisted therapy in Canada. All other legal therapies that have been offered to date have been through TheraPsil directly.
The two institutions are coming together to launch Canada’s first psychedelic therapy clinic in Calgary this February.
“The idea is that as Section 56 continues to get approved either through Syntac or through other organizations, ATMA would be providing palliative care in our clinic and we’d be doing it with no cost,” Habstritt explains.
He further adds, “The intention here is that ATMA wants to provide the on-going treatment for palliative patients at no cost. That’s the first of the several we’ll roll out.”
Individuals seeking medical help will receive pre-psychedelic treatment, counselling and preparation for the therapy, the actual sessions, and the post-therapy integration at the Calgary clinic.
TheraPsil’s Public Funding
While collaboration is the solution to cost for Syntac, TheraPsil went to the public for funding in December after gaining confidence through administering at least 15 psychedelic-assisted therapies.
After their gradual but no less groundbreaking success through much of 2020, the company launched a campaign on FundRazr with the aim of raising at least CAD $250,000. TheraPsil is looking forward to expanding its programme by training healthcare professionals with the long term goal of making psychedelic therapy services available for every Canadian.
“That is exactly why we’re fundraising right now,” Hawkswell told Truffle.
He continued, “We are going to have to expand this and start training other practitioners because that’s what our mission is. It’s to train the healthcare practitioners all across Canada and make sure we’re getting the best access to the patients and right now, the only way to get access is to train people.”
TheraPsil has been receiving an overwhelming number of requests for psychedelic therapy with a limited number of resources and trained healthcare professionals.
“If we don’t get funding, if we can’t grow our program trained therapists, then we essentially can’t move any faster than we are right now,” Hawkswell says.
Ritika is a Toronto-based reporter. She writes about drug policies and developments in psychedelics.