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For Alison Myrden, who lives with multiple sclerosis, the early July police bust at Hamilton’s Mushroom Cabinet meant a massive and nearly immediate deterioration in her quality of life.
The 59-year-old Burlington resident says she was relying on the east-end Hamilton storefront, which sells several strains of psilocybin mushrooms, for the best medicine she’s found to tamp down the debilitating nerve pain she experiences constantly in her face and throughout her head.
“I want people to know that this works for even the most excruciating pain known to medicine,” said Myrden, describing a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. “I can get relief in six minutes [but] I am always chasing this pain.”
A former corrections officer and longtime advocate for drug legalization, she contacted CBC Hamilton after police raided the Mushroom Cabinet, on Main Street East, a few blocks east of Kenilworth Avenue, on July 6. The same day, police also raided the newly-opened Shroomyz, on King Street East near Gage Avenue South. Police said at the time they seized more than $70,000 in product and “a quantity” of cash from the two stores.
They also arrested two people, charging a 25-year-old Hamilton woman and 44-year-old Brantford man with possession of psilocybin for the purpose of trafficking and possessing the proceeds of crime. The Brantford man was also charged with trafficking.
It was the second bust for the Mushroom Cabinet, which appeared to reopen shortly after its previous bust, after it opened in December. At that time, police said two people were arrested.
Both businesses back open already
When CBC Hamilton visited Tuesday, both businesses were open once again. Staff at Shroomyz said they were unaware of a raid when they were hired earlier this week. An employee at the Mushroom Cabinet, also hired after the raid, said business hasn’t changed much in the past two weeks. CBC Hamilton left messages for both stores’ owners and is awaiting a response.
CBC Hamilton has sent numerous interview requests to Hamilton police, beginning May 26, asking for an opportunity to discuss the force’s enforcement strategy regarding the Mushroom Cabinet. After initially agreeing to schedule an interview, police haven’t responded to our requests on this file since May 31.
University of Toronto drug policy expert Akwasi Owusu-Bempah told CBC Hamilton, in a past interview, that continuously reopening these stores is meant to push the needle on drug policy. Similar stores have opened in other Canadian cities, including Montreal, London and Winnipeg.
“These acts of civil disobedience force governments to act, either to decide to enforce or to move more quickly with respect to what they’re going to do around regulation,” said Owusu-Bempah, a sociologist working on psilocybin research with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Canada. He is also a consultant to mushroom firm Red Light Holland.
“The idea that you could walk into a bar, or walk into a store, and purchase alcohol but you can’t purchase psychedelics flies in the face of what the science tells us. Alcohol is a much more harmful drug than psilocybin, both to the individual and to society.… Enforcing outdated, and unjust, and unscientific drug laws is not what our police should be doing.”
‘I macrodose, I don’t microdose’
Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms, are illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act. However, there are ways Canadians can use them legally – by participating in a clinical trial, requesting an exemption under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or applying to Health Canada’s Special Access Program, which require both a recommendation from a doctor and government approval.
Myrden says her doctor has authorized her to use up to 50 grams per day – she typically takes five grams in tea and eats five grams of mushrooms at each dose.
“I macrodose, I don’t microdose,” she said, noting she takes the substance so frequently that it does not make her high in the way a recreational user would experience. “I am not anything but pain-free, happy, and totally digging life.”
One of Canada’s earliest legal users of medical marijuana, Myrden is currently applying to the Health Canada’s Special Access Program to be legally allowed to use psilocybin.
She says she’d like to see psilocybin made legal to make it easier for researchers to study its health effects, which Owusu-Bempah has said is challenging in the current regulatory environment. Myrden also noted that prohibition drives up the cost of her medicine, and that it could be made more affordable if it were widely available.
“People have to know this is out there and we have options,” she said. “I don’t want to live my life only relying on pharmaceuticals.”