Is psychedelic medicine the new frontier in mental health?

  • Clinics like Mindbloom and Field Trip Health want to make “psychedelic medicine” mainstream.
  • Mindbloom went virtual in 2020, offering ketamine treatments at home. Field Trip Hot Springs are open.
  • Research has shown that ketamine can help reduce depressive symptoms, but experts urge caution.

Last fall, Dan, a 43-year-old father, confided to a friend that he was giving in under the stresses of everyday life in the midst of a global pandemic. When a friend told him about a medical spa called Mindbloom who offered ketamine treatment at home became intrigued.

A few days later, a Mindbloom-branded diary, pen and eye mask arrived in the mail. His medicine – oral ketamine tablets in a holographic package – arrived shortly after from Mindbloom’s partner pharmacy.

I wanted to be less reactive, learn to trust myself“Said Dan, who had suffered from general anxiety disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for many years. (He requested that his full name not be used.)

When it was time for his first session, he sat down in his favorite chair, shoved the ketamine tablets into his cheek so they could dissolve, pulled down his eye mask, and waited. Later he would reread what he had written in his diary: “Whoa what an experience, the me of now is totally different from the me of before“.

An hour later, he was video chatting with his “guide” Mindbloom, trying to process the experience.

For years, the expectation has grown for a brave new world where psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin, MDMA and even LSD, become accepted and approved mental health treatments. Although great strides have been made – MDMA is currently in clinical trials and is in the final stage – to get these drugs out of the rave and into the pharmacy, none of them will likely be available for several years.

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Just googling ketamine, which is better known as the party drug, Special K, and has been available as an anesthetic since the 1970s. Ketamine was used off-label as an antidepressant for the past decade in so-called “ketamine clinics,” after researchers found that non-sedative doses of it led to relief from depression in the early 2000s.

Clinics like MindBloom (slogan: “Psychedelic medicine is here”) are trying to make ketamine more accessible by lowering the costs of treatments, which they are not covered by insurance. Four sessions at Mindbloom will cost you $ 1,000, compared to infusions done at a ketamine clinic, which can cost between $ 400 and $ 2,000 per session. Mindbloom serves customers in 11 states: New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Utah.

“Mental health care was the number one critical issue in the American public health system prior to COVID, and the omnipresence of the pandemic in our daily lives made the problem worse,” said Dylan Beynon, founder and CEO of Mindbloom. “Mindbloom has as its mission that of transform lives to transform the world. We are doing this by radically increasing access to the next generation of mental health and wellness treatments ”.

But the real key to what these newcomers are offering is the drug experience combined with integration coaching. (Most Mindbloom guides have training in “psychedelic supplementation” from schools such as the California Institute of Integral Studies. In addition to post-treatment conversation sessions, clients can text their coaches.)

Field Trip Health is a similar clinic with locations in Toronto, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Unlike Mindbloom, which went completely virtual in September 2019, Field Trip offers an in-person ketamine experience at its spa facilities.

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After a virtual visit with a doctor to discuss your situation, you can sign up for Field Trip for “ketamine-assisted psychotherapy”. A $ 2,500 basic treatment package at Field Trip includes 6 “exploratory sessions” of ketamine (an IV drip dose of ketamine in an outpatient setting with a licensed physician by your side), plus 3 “supplement” sessions with a licensed therapist with training in psychedelic medicine to process your experiences. (Field Trip’s licensed therapists use research-backed psychotherapy techniques, the company says.)

“With ketamine in particular, it’s a dissociative anesthetic,” says Ben Madrano, physician, integrative psychiatrist and medical director of Field Trip. “It allows you to dissociate yourself enough from this level of identification with painful emotions, so you can start looking at that pain from different angles with the therapy framework“.

This is not a completely out of the ordinary idea: decades of research have shown that speech therapy (and speech therapy in combination with medications) is effective for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, as well as helping someone cope with other difficult things like grief or a global pandemic. Research has shown that ketamine can help reduce even severe depressive symptoms within 24 hours. In 2019, a new version of ketamine (“esketamine”) was approved by the FDA specifically for treatment-resistant depression, although most clinics still use the original version of ketamine.

Some experts still see plenty of reasons to be cautious, at least for now, and say it may not be the right treatment for everyone. “It appears to relieve depression in one to two weeks,” said Charles S. Grob, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at UCLA School of Medicine, who has studied the therapeutic uses of psychedelics. “The problem is that the depression returns“.

Regarding the value of ketamine-assisted therapy, Dr. Grob said: “I haven’t seen many research results claiming that it works, or that it works more effectively than ketamine alone“.

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There are also real risks of using ketamine. It is not recommended for people who have schizophrenia or certain heart problems, among other things. (FieldTrip and Mindbloom point out that these issues are why they screen patients from licensed providers.) But beyond that, there’s a risk of becoming addicted to the drug. While it doesn’t create physical addiction in the same way as opioids, some people can develop psychological addiction, says Dr. Grob.

Those who currently use these services claim to have had positive experiences.

Peter, a 40-something healthcare professional who asked Insider to hide his identity, has suffered from severe depression for the past two years. “In my lowest moments, literally, I was in a fetal position unable to get up off the floor for days“, dice Peter.

He started working with a traditional therapist three times a week, but he didn’t want to try antidepressants: “I don’t think traditional drugs allow you to overcome the pain. They just let you work, ”he says. When he discovered Field Trip, he was immediately drawn to it because he had read about ketamine’s unique method of action in the brain and felt it could offer something other treatments couldn’t. He wanted the chance to experience it legally and with professional supervision.

After two sessions, he is already reporting profound benefits. “The ketamine experience is far beyond what words can capture“, He says. “As for me, it helped me see things in a bigger picture and taught me that I don’t have to ruminate. I can let it go ”.

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