Southwestern Ontario lab seeks rare permission to make, study psychedelic drugs

A Toronto-based cannabis company is seeking permission from federal health authorities to build a first-of-its-kind laboratory in southwestern Ontario that will produce and study hallucinogenic drugs.

Norfolk County would be home to the region's first federally licensed psilocybin research facility

Illegal for decades, psilocybin or "magic mushrooms" are seen in here an undated photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Washington. (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency/Reuters)

A Toronto-based cannabis company is looking for a rare exemption under federal drug control laws to build a first-of-its-kind laboratory for southwestern Ontario to produce and study psychedelic drugs. 

New Leaf Canada announced that within the next two months, it would begin an expansion of its existing 32,000 square-foot cannabis production facility located on a 64-acre farm in rural Norfolk County, southeast of Tillsonburg, Ont.

The laboratory, which will adjoin New Leaf's existing production facility, would be used to produce psilocybin and psilocin, a hallucinogenic drug found in magic mushrooms that has been illegal for decades in Canada but has recently become an emerging treatment for mental illness and addictions. 

The facility, which New Leaf subsidiary Psirenity will run, would be used to develop mushroom strains, new methods for extracting the drugs and eventually conduct clinical trials, according to Psirenity CEO Chris McCullogh. 

Psychedelic research an emerging field

"We'll be working with psilocybin and psilocin," he said.  "The belief in the science and the early indicators are that psilocybin can help with that increased global brain activity."

There is growing interest in the use of psychedelics such as MDMA or psilocybin in treating a number of mental disorders from anxiety to PTSD, but more study is needed. (Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance)

Psychedelic research has become an emerging field in medicine, with scientists looking at psilocybin's potential to treat a host of disorders ranging from anxiety and depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, even easing the fear of an imminent death

Recently, the federal government has also begun loosening laws around the drugs. Health Canada gave four exemptions to palliative care patients to use the drug for end-of-life psychotherapy last August.

Since then, other exemptions have been given to patients who want to use magic mushrooms and therapists who want to develop new treatments using the drugs. 

Right now, only a a handful of health practioners in Canada offer therapy using the drugs and currently, there are no approved therapeutic products containing psilocybin in Canada

McCullogh said through its research, Psirenity hopes to one day change that by studying the potential health and wellness applications of micro-dosing, the practice of taking tiny hits of psychedelic drugs to improve mental wellbeing that's growing in popularity but remains unstudied and largely unproven. 

"This is something that doesn't have any psychotropic effect. The dosage is very low. It's something you can take and go about your day and go to work, so it's not something that creates hallucinogenic effects."

Users who take minute doses of hallucinogenic drugs say it can improve mood and relieve anxiety and has gained a large following on some social media websites. 

Microdosing 'really promising' but 'still a far cry' from medicine

A groundbreaking study conducted by the University of Toronto and York University into the phenomenon in 2018 found microdosers reported higher creativity and wisdom and lower negative and dysfunctional attitudes.

Psirenity's Norfolk County lab will focus on developing new strains of magic mushrooms, extracting the active ingredient and eventually clinical microdosing trials. (Peter Dejon/Associated Press)

Researchers said the results were "really promising," but psilocybin is "still a far cry" from being considered medicine. 

McCullogh said Psirenity hopes that with further research, scientists can prove whether psilocybin makes a measurable difference in people's lives and could one day be used as an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical anti-depressants.

"It's not an addictive process, something that you are addicted to, nor does it have lingering side effects," said McCullogh.

"Traditional treatment measures aren't solving all the problems and many people are looking for alternative options and we firmly believe and studies are showing that microdosing can unlock and help a person on their path to achieving their optimum brain health wellness." 


  • An earlier version of this article inaccurately described New Leaf Canada as already having permission for the expansion, as company officials had indicated to CBC News. Health Canada later clarified and told CBC News the company had not yet received permission to go ahead with the expansion.
    Apr 28, 2021 4:31 PM ET