Overdose crisis sparks petition to decriminalize plant medicines

Photo credit: Eberhard Grossgasteiger via Unsplash

Last week (April 16), Vancouver-based plant medicine advocate Trevor Millar launched a petition calling on the House of Commons to reconsider its stance on sacramental and medicinal plants and fungi. Within 24 hours, it gained the support of over 1,000 Canadians.

Written in part by local advocates Chris Bennett and Jovian Francey, it is sponsored by MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith Paul Manly. According to Millar, who agreed to help Bennett and Francey quarterback the petition, it has gained public support from Dr. Gabor Maté, Wade Davis, Dennis McKenna, and the BC Centre for Substance Use.

“This petition is dedicated towards the decriminalization of plant medicines specifically,” Millar told Inside the Jar in an email. “What making these psychedelic compounds more available does, is [it] allows us to start treating the trauma and mental illness like depression and anxiety that so often leads a person down the path of problematic drug use. To allow some of the great underground practitioners Canada has to come a bit more above ground is going to impact a lot of lives positively.”

Millar is the chair of the board for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Canada and a co-founder of the newly registered non-profit, the Canadian Psychedelic Association. The petition is the first major initiative of the CPA, which officially launched last week. He has been involved in Vancouver’s underground plant medicine community since 2012, when he founded Liberty Root Therapy. Millar was also part of a team that helped to defeat a motion against psilocybin at Vancouver City Council in September 2019.

Through Liberty Root, he was able to provide individuals suffering from opioid use disorder with ibogaine, a psychoactive plant medicine that can help interrupt addictive tendencies without withdrawal symptoms. Part of the company’s initiative was to provide pro bono treatment to residents of the Downtown Eastside.

“In 2017, Health Canada changed the regulatory status of ibogaine so that it was no longer legally viable for me to work with it,” he said. While he recognizes that some of these plants don’t come with the mounds of clinical research that pharmaceutical-based treatments do, he’s seen ibogaine and other substances have profound, life-changing effects on those who are able to access them.

“Ibogaine is so powerful it helps people get off heroin. It has yet to have multi-million dollar clinical trials done to prove its efficacy in double-blind studies, but as someone who has given this medicine to more than 200 people, I can tell you it works, I don't need the studies, I just need permission to work with it so I can start saving lives again.”

Citing the age-old use and therapeutic properties of sacramental and medicinal plants and fungi, and the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), the petition asks that all enforcement against the adult use, growing, or sharing of plants or fungi be immediately discontinued. It also cites the growing body of peer-reviewed evidence that such substances can be useful in recovery from addiction, and suggests that in the midst of the overdose crisis, “a wider range of treatment modalities, including those informed by ancient and Indigenous knowledge, are urgently needed.”

It asks that the House of Commons confirms that practices involving plant medicines are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that cultural and social exemptions in the UN Convention be afforded to Canadians. Finally, it asks that the government amend all related legislation (ie. the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Food and Drug Act) to exempt plant medicines when used “for therapeutic practices, as adjuncts to medical care, for healing ceremonies or solitary spiritual growth and self-development.”

While the petition doesn’t specify which plant medicines and fungi should be exempt, Millar said ideally the CPA would “like to set them all free.”