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For inquiries regarding the utilization of ethnobotanicals, or in case you are experiencing an adverse situation or difficulty integrating and experience, please read this page. For inquiries regarding legal support , please read this page.

  • We don’t offer sessions of ayahuasca or iboga.
  • We don’t recommend centers or people who perform/do sessions.

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    Office

    Carrer de Sepúlveda, 65 , Oficina 2, 08015 Barcelona España +34 931 88 20 99

    Canada

    26.01.2022

    General situation

    At present, there is no legal protection in Canada for ayahuasca use by any groups other than the Santo Daime church Céu do Montreal and the União do Vegetal (UDV).

    In Canada, it is illegal to import, possess, sell, distribute, or administer ayahuasca. Not only DMT, but also harmalol and harmaline (which is different from other countries) are classified as Schedule III drugs under the 1996 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. A prescription or license is required to possess these legally. The Office of Controlled Substances (OCS) stated this in 2011, when notifying the renowned researcher Gabor Maté he could not continue “conducting clinical trials using ayahuasca” without the proper authorization.

    It is illegal to import/export ayahuasca to Canada under Article 7 of the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Thus, people receiving ayahuasca may be arrested or have their shipments seized by customs. Although this Convention may be subjected to different interpretations – in the sense that it lists only DMT, and not ayahuasca itself, as a controlled substance – policy decisions in Canada confirm that the Canadian authorities have interpreted this issue from a restrictive approach (see letters sent to Dr. Gabor Mate from Health Canada: part 1 and part 2). This was the case of the Céu do Montreal, a branch of Santo Daime, which was denied their first request to be able to import ayahuasca for ceremonial use (see here for a document detailing some of Health Canada’s analysis of this first request). In the Minister of Health’s response, they stated that ayahuasca is considered “an illicit preparation of controlled substances and that tolerance for its ceremonial use would not be in the public interest.’”

    However, the Liberal Party elected federally in October, 2015, seems to have much more progressive approach to drug policy issues than the previous Conservative government. For example, they are working towards cannabis regulation. And, their approach to the issue of ayahuasca legality is proving to be different than that of the previous administration.

    On June 5, 2017, Health Canada granted the Santo Daime Church Céu do Montreal, and the UDV, Section 56 exemptions to the Controlled Dugs and Substances Act, which protects them from prosecution or the import and use of their sacrament for their religious practices.

    In May 2019, 3 additional churches were provided exemptions. The three new exemptions were granted to the Ceu da Divina Luz do Montreal, the Église Santo Daime Céu do Vale de Vida in Val-David, Que., and the Ceu de Toronto.

    Subject to certain specified conditions, the groups are being licensed by the government for the legally authorized right to import and distribute their sacrament in religious services. This is the result of what has been a 16-year process for the Céu do Montreal.

    Ayahuasca use within other contexts in Canada is not covered by these exemptions and the impact of Health Canada’s decision on any future exemptions for the use of ayahuasca remains to be seen and will unfold over the coming years.

    International law

    The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) subjects several psychoactive compounds contained in plant species to international control. DMT (N,N-dimetyltryptamine, a tryptamine alkaloid contained in Psychotria viridis and other plants generally used in the preparation of ayahuasca) is a Schedule I controlled substance in the Convention. However, according to the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) Report for 2010 (par. 284) ‘no plants are currently controlled under that Convention […]. Preparations (e.g. decoctions for oral use) made from plants containing those active ingredients are also not under international control’.

    There is no general consensus among judges and law enforcement officials on whether ayahuasca is illegal because it contains DMT, or not. It is up to national governments to make the final decision in their own jurisdictions on whether to impose controls on these plants and preparations, including ayahuasca.

    National drug legislation

    Ayahuasca brew containing DMT, harmalol, or harmaline is illegal under Canadian law because DMT, harmalol, and harmaline are substances regulated under Schedule III of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA,1996). The OSC has stated that “ayahuasca is considered to be a controlled substance by virtue of Section 2(2) of the CDSA which states that anything that contains a controlled substance is also a controlled substance.” Exemptions may be granted under Section 56 of the CDSA, but to-date the only groups that have been granted such exemptions are the Santo Daime and the UDV.

    Ayahuasca analogues containing DMT, harmalol, or harmaline are also illegal. Canada is one of the few countries (together with France, among others) that have included harmalol and harmaline in their drug legislation, and not only DMT. This is something unusual in most national drug legislations.

    The plants B. caapi and P. viridis are not explicitly controlled by the 1996 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so possessing or selling these ‘plants used to make ayahuasca is not a criminal act, but possessing or distributing a preparation made from them may be interpreted as such and could lead to criminal charges’.

    The statutory maximum punishments for possession of a Schedule III drug in Canada is three years imprisonment or a fine of one thousand dollars and a maximum six months imprisonment for first time offenders.

    Cases

    União do Vegetal (2017)

    On June 5, 2017, Health Canada granted the Santo Daime church the Céu do Montreal a Section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which protects them from prosecution for the import and use of their sacrament for their religious practices. Subject to certain specified conditions the UDV and the Céu do Montreal Santo Daime church (see below) are being licensed by the Goverment for the legally authorized right to import and distribute their sacrament in religious services.

    Santo Daime (2000-2017)

    In 2000 a branch of Santo Daime based in Canada (Céu do Montreal) had its ayahuasca stopped and confiscated by Canadian customs. In 2001, the Santo Daime requested an exemption to the Ministry of Health, in accordance with Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to use ayahuasca in their rituals. Its members considered the prohibition to import ayahuasca as an infringement of their right to religious freedom. After several years of legal proceedings of its leaders for imports of ayahuasca, the judge dropped the charges and the matter was taken out of courts to be managed by the Ministry of Health.

    Initially, the applicants received notice that their application was approved ‘in principle’ by the bureaucracy, depending on a final official authorization granted by the Ministry of Health. But in 2012 the Céu do Montreal’s exception for ceremonial ayahuasca use was officially denied by the Minister of Health.

    As noted above, on June 5, 2017, Health Canada granted the Santo Daime church the Céu do Montreal a Section 56 exemption to the Controlled Dugs and Substances Act, which protects them from prosecution for the import and use of their sacrament for their religious practices. Subject to certain specified conditions the Céu do Montreal and the UDV are being licensed by the Goverment for the legally authorized right to import and distribute their sacrament in religious services.

    Regina v. Uyunkar (2001)

    After an elder First Nations participant died of tobacco poisoning in a ceremony led by a indigenous Shuar shaman on a First Nations reservation in Wikwemikong, Ontario, the shaman, Uyunkar, was arrested and charged with medical malpractice and trafficking of and administering a controlled substance, harmaline (his brew did not contain P. viridis or any other DMT-containing plant). Uyunkar plead guilty to the charges and was sentenced to one year’s community service in Wikwemikong.

    Gabor Maté case (2011)

    A Vancouver family doctor reported that he had successfully used ayahuasca to treat addiction patients when he received a letter (here is part 1 of the letter, here is part 2) from Canada’s Office of Controlled Substances warning him that possession of ayahuasca was illegal in Canada and ordering him to cease all activates relating to ayahuasca. He said he had no choice but to comply.

    Recent developments

    In 2016 there was an arrest for ayahuasca importation in Montreal. People face charges as this is considered importing DMT (namely, criminal offences for drug trafficking).

    Relevant documents

    Indigenous rights

    The legal status of indigenous peoples’ use of ayahuasca in Canada is unclear. At the moment of adhesion to the 1971 Convention, Canada made a reservation for the case of peyote, but this does not apply to ayahuasca.

    A 2011 ayahuasca study involving several coastal First Nations subjects concluded when the health minister of Canada denied the administering doctor’s request for legal exemption.

    Drug policy developments

    As noted above, the new federal government elected in 2015 – led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the Liberal Party – has a much more progressive approach to drug policy issues and is working towards cannabis regulation in Canada. This may imply a refreshed perspective on ayahuasca legality as well, and the granting of Section 56 exemptions from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to the Santo Daime church Céu do Montreal and to the UDV in June of 2017 is a promising development.

    Updated: May 2019

    Categories: Countries
    Tags: Canada