Jordan Armstrong isn’t worried about a police stop.
“We’re here to protest every day,” said Armstrong, who runs The Golden Teacher, a magic mushroom shop on the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie streets.
“And laws that are unjust don’t change unless you come out and make a statement about it. So we’re looking to change laws that we think are outdated.”
As of December 2021, Armstrong has been selling magic mushrooms and other products like gummies, chocolates and microdosing capsules that contain the psychoactive substance psilocybin.
This is despite the fact that magic mushrooms are considered an illegal substance in Canada, available only by prescription under very specific circumstances.
Yet there are at least two storefronts in Ottawa that openly advertise it. Along with the Golden Teacher, another Preston Street store, Shroomyz, is set to open on May 1, according to its social media page.
“We’re providing you with a safe, controlled dose, with a clear idea of how it’s going to affect you,” Armstrong said.
“And then you come home and experiment on yourself with mushrooms.”
“Grey Area Research Facility”
According to Health Canada, the use of magic mushrooms — in addition to their hallucinogenic properties — can lead to anxiety, fear, nausea, rapid heartbeat and “bad trips”, even if there are had “a growing interest in [their] potential therapeutic uses.
The production, sale and possession of magic mushrooms are illegal, according to Health Canada.
Armstrong said some of his clients use mushrooms for therapeutic purposes, while others use them for spiritual growth or personal development.
He added psilocybin the products they sell aren’t just for “getting high”.
Armstrong calls the store a “grey area research facility” that sells mushrooms to learn more about their effects on people.
He said they plan to survey customers, as dosage information is limited.
“What is largely unknown about fungi is how they affect each individual,” he said. “And that’s what needs to be known and documented so that we can continue to properly regulate mushrooms.”
That way, “bad trips will be obsolete,” he said.
CBC also tried to reach Shroomys, but without success.
Take psilocybin legally
There are ways for Canadians to legally consume psilocybin, with Health Canada leading the way in 2020 for critically ill patients prescribed magic mushrooms.
One of the concerns about unregulated psilocybin is that it could potentially include dangerous substances like fentanyl, said Dr. Valorie Masuda, a Vancouver Island hospice physician certified in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Masuda can legally prescribe small doses of psilocybin to patients in existential distress due to an end-of-life diagnosis.
“You can’t give antidepressants to people who are so anxious because of their cancer diagnosis,” she said. “Drugs don’t help. Sedatives don’t help. All they do is make people feel sedated. They’re still distressed.”
Masuda said he saw an 80% success rate when using psilocybin to treat his palliative care patients, in an eight-week group therapy session.
“They are no longer driven by anxiety. They are no longer depressed. They take every day as a magical day.”
The results of microdosing with psychedelics have been “phenomenal,” Masuda said, adding that she would like to see legislative changes so people can access psilocybin the same way they can now buy cannabis.
“Once we legalize it and have licensed producers responsible for their product, I think we will see safety improve – and we may see licensed providers providing micro doses rather than high doses,” said she declared.
“And that way it’s really controlled.”
The police recognize the illegality
The Ottawa Police Service has acknowledged that psilocybin is illegal.
In a statement, police told CBC News that they “review and assess drug complaints on an individual basis to determine the appropriate course of action, which may include further investigation and enforcement of law”.
Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday he was unaware of the two magic mushroom shops, adding that he would like to hear from the police about what action they would take.
“If it’s illegal they shouldn’t be operating and they should be shut down as soon as possible.”