Here’s the press release
The granting of a licence to cultivate indigenous fungi containing psilocybin, the active compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, is the first of its kind in New Zealand and a major milestone in a Māori health science collaboration led by Rangiwaho Marae, based south of Gisborne. The licence was granted to Rua Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical business also based in Tairāwhiti. The company is involved as a research and development support partner for the project.
The granting of the licence is the next step in the collaboration including a network of rongoā Māori practitioners, ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research), University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Mātai Medical Research Institute, an iwi health provider and other community stakeholders. The collaboration aims to unlock the therapeutic potential of psilocybin found in indigenous varieties of ‘magic mushrooms’, which has been used in traditional medicine in Aotearoa and around the world for thousands of years.
Earlier this year, Australia changed the regulations to enable psilocybin to be prescribed by authorised psychiatrists to people experiencing treatment-resistant depression. In New Zealand any registered prescriber can apply to Medsafe for permission to administer an unapproved medicine.
The licence is only for cultivation research at this stage. ESR will be providing analytical testing services to determine the levels of psilocybin and other compounds in the fungi to ensure accurate dosing when the time comes to use the mushrooms in human trials.
Psilocybin has shown promise in preliminary studies for treating various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Rangiwaho Marae, south of Gisborne, has been leading the planning for clinical trials involving rongoā practitioners, medical professionals and psilocybin. The trials will initially involve healthy adults to demonstrate the safety of psilocybin, but the goal is to help whānau affected by methamphetamine and other addictions.
“We are hugely excited about this opportunity for our whānau” said Rangiwaho trustee Jody Toroa. “These taonga are provided by the atua and our people have been using them for healing and wellness for centuries. We have been learning from tohunga about how the taonga can help shift ingrained habits and unhelpful ways of thinking, to open up new possibilities.”
Paul Naske, CEO of Rua Bioscience, expressed enthusiasm about the new development: “It is a privilege to be involved in this ground-breaking project and we are excited to be able to support this kaupapa. It is exciting to see Australia and other jurisdictions embracing innovative and potentially life-changing medical research with psilocybin and exciting for Rua Bioscience to now be part of such a great national collaboration.
Collaborating with Rangiwaho, ESR, rongoā practitioners and university medical researchers provides us with a unique opportunity to explore cultivation techniques that can contribute to research undertaken in a culturally safe environment with the support of a range of expertise. Bringing together Mātauranga Māori, psychedelic traditions and contemporary neuroscience research is world-leading innovation based here in Tairāwhiti.”
Mr Naske emphasised that this development would add to botanical pharmaceutical focus of Rua Bioscience, was cost-neutral and in no way detracted from the commercial priorities of the company which is currently selling cannabis-derived medicines in Europe and Australia.
Project regulatory advisor Manu Caddie said the decision by Manatū Hauora, the Ministry of Health, to grant the cultivation licence reflects a global shift in attitudes towards psychedelic substances and their potential therapeutic value. It will help position New Zealand as part of the pioneering group of jurisdictions supporting this evolving research domain.
Official Information provided by Medsafe last month to the New Zealand Drug Foundation showed that no one in New Zealand has been prescribed psilocybin to date in a clinical setting. Three applications have been made for using psilocybin in clinical trials, all in the past 18 months.
Rangiwaho Marae has received Health Research Council funding to progress the clinical research programme and Rua Bioscience will now begin cultivation trials with the aim of producing consistent levels of psilocybin to be used in clinical trials.