This Ottawa store is selling magic mushrooms to protest 'unjust' laws
Mayor says if it's illegal, shops should be 'shut down as quickly as possible'
Jordan Armstrong isn't worried about a police shutdown.
"We're out here protesting every single day," said Armstrong, who runs The Golden Teacher magic mushroom shop in downtown Ottawa.
"And laws that are unjust don't change unless you go out and you make a statement about it. So we're looking to change laws that we believe are outdated."
Since December 2021, Armstrong has been selling magic mushrooms and other products like gummies, chocolates and microdosing capsules that contain the psychoactive substance psilocybin at the shop on the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie streets.
That's despite the fact magic mushrooms are considered an illegal substance in Canada, available only with a prescription in highly specific circumstances.
Yet there are at least two storefronts in Ottawa openly advertising them for sale. Along with the Golden Teacher, another store on Preston Street called Shroomyz is set to open May 1, according to its social media page.
"We provide you with a safe, controlled dose, with a clear idea of how it's going to affect you," said Armstrong.
"And then you go home and you experiment on yourself with fungus."
'Grey-area research facility'
According to Health Canada, using magic mushrooms — in addition to their hallucinogenic properties — can lead to anxiety, fear, nausea, an increased heart rate and "bad trips," even as there has been "increasing interest in [their] potential therapeutic uses."
The production, sale and possession of magic mushrooms are all illegal, Health Canada said.
Armstrong said some of his customers use mushrooms for therapeutic purposes, while others use them for spiritual growth or for self-development.
He added the psilocybin products they sell are not just for "getting high." Armstrong dubs the shop a "grey-area research facility" that sells mushrooms to learn about how they affect people.
He said they are planning to survey customers as there is limited information about dosing.
"What is widely unknown about mushrooms is the way that it affects each individual," he said. "And this is what needs to be known and what needs to be documented so that we can go forward with regulating fungus properly."
This way, "the bad trips will be obsolete," he said.
CBC tried to reach Shroomyz as well, but was unsuccessful.
Taking psilocybin legally
There are ways for Canadians to legally consume psilocybin, with Health Canada clearing the way in 2020 for seriously ill patients to be prescribed magic mushrooms.
One concern about unregulated psilocybin is that it could potentially include hazardous substances like fentanyl, said Dr. Valorie Masuda, a palliative care physician on Vancouver Island who is certified in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Masuda can legally prescribe small doses of psilocybin to patients going through existential distress because of an end-of-life diagnosis.
"You can't give antidepressants to people who are so anxious because of their cancer diagnosis," she said. "Meds don't help. Sedatives don't help. All it does is make people feel sedated. They're still distressed."
Masuda said she's seen an 80-per-cent success rate while using psilocybin to treat her palliative care patients, in the context of an eight-week group therapy session.
"They're no longer driven by anxiety. They're no longer depressed. They are taking every day as a magical day."
The results of treating patients using psychedelics have been "phenomenal," Masuda said, adding she'd like to see legislative changes so people can access psilocybin the same way they now can buy cannabis.
"Once we legalize it and we have licensed producers who are accountable for their product, then I think we see the safety improve — and we could see licensed providers providing microdoses as opposed to large doses," she said.
"And this way it's really controlled."
Police acknowledge illegality
The Ottawa Police Service has acknowledged psilocybin is illegal.
In a statement, the police force told CBC News that it "reviews and assesses drug complaints on an individual basis to determine the appropriate course of action, which may include further investigation and enforcement."
Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday he wasn't aware of the two magic mushroom shops, adding he'd want to hear from police about what measures they would take.
"If it's illegal, they should not be operating and they should be shut down as quickly as possible."