CANNABIS CULTURE – According to Independent Consultant Mort Goldman, Pharm.D., “Ketamine is relatively short-acting, with an incredibly high level of safety. That’s why it’s a favorite among doctors as a procedural anesthetic.”
That’s also why ketamine seems like one of the most reasonable solutions to treating mental and emotional distress in a time when few have access to—or money for—extended psychotherapy sessions that can stretch out for years.
“It’s like ten years of therapy in an afternoon,” said Ronan Levy, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Field Trip Health. The company is leading the way in providing integrative, ketamine-assisted therapy; and it recently launched its Basecamp program aimed at serving the nuanced needs of veterans and frontline workers.
“These are some of the most resilient, capable people you would ever meet. Some of these guys are my heroes. And they’ll say, ‘Yeah, after deployment I put a gun to my head,’” Adam Wright, Director of Basecamp, said of the people he wants this program to benefit.
Wright, a former Navy Seal has first-hand experience with the way ketamine works on people who have trauma-related stress. Careful to make it clear that veterans are not victims, Wright noted that many present with traumatic brain injuries, endocrine dysfunctions, sleep disorders, substance abuse, survivor’s guilt, and existential strife. Some members of the military even develop CTE from explosive blasts during training.
Ketamine “gives them an opportunity to open up and explore new ways of thinking,” that can provide some needed stress relief. “What we offer is safety and transformation. [ … ] I’ve had a lot of colleagues and teammates that said, ‘psychedelics saved my life.’”
Set and Setting: Ketamine in a Clinic
Much like in traditional psychiatric treatment, there is a sharp contrast in approaches to the administration of ketamine for mental health purposes. The medical paradigm leaves something to be desired, with infusions happening in a clinical setting, and few opportunities for integration.
Deena Nyer Mendlowitz* has been battling pervasive suicidal ideation for most of her adult life. She has used 50 different medications, and she lost precious memories when she tried ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). For her, one more day of survival was worth forgetting years.
“TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation]was working, but then the pandemic happened.” Her most recent voluntary hospitalization resulted in her making the decision to try ketamine infusions.
“I don’t do recreational anything,” she laughed. So she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “I felt like I wasn’t being creative enough, because it was just like how I imagine the experience when someone is tripping. I saw colors swirling around. […] My brain felt open in a way it never did.”
In the setting Nyer Mendlowitz has access to, the infusion process itself takes about an hour, and then patients are free to go. She wished her therapist was there, so she could share some of her thoughts and feelings. Someone to just be supportive, even if not for conversation. “I kind of wanted her to be on the inside, if you know what I mean.”
Nyer Mendlowitz participated in ketamine treatments for about six months. They provided some level of temporary relief, but they were hardly the solution to her long-term struggle. “Maybe if things were different than they are right now,” she mused. “I would be open to trying it again.”
Going On A Field Trip
There is—without doubt—a chronic stress problem in the United States, where Nyer Mendlowitz had her treatments. However, the set and setting of having her treatments in a clinic without a therapist present—or even a truly focused integrative session later—may have been the missing piece.
Field Trip Health’s programs are a stark contrast with the more clinical approach. The company focuses on creating a calm, relaxing environment where people receiving ketamine are supported by a therapist who remains present the whole time—and is there for integration after.
Ketamine Assisted Therapist, Tatiana Santini, MA, SEP said, “It’s not about the medicine. It’s about the ketamine assisted psychotherapy. Reprocessing those traumatic memories. Sometimes you need someone else to shed the light on the blind spots,” which is why it’s so important for a supportive therapist to remain present.
Santini noted that everyone has a their own personal style, but she doesn’t push for hardcore integration right away. “The way I work, I wait for the person to come out from their journey, and I wait for them to tell me. If they don’t feel like talking, we don’t talk.”
Santini shared the story of one of her clients, who was grateful that she was right there for him the whole time. “[He] really hated himself. Body image. Everything. He couldn’t stand himself to the point that he couldn’t even look in the mirror to shave.”
“He went into his first session, and I could see that he was struggling. Then I saw him take a deep breath, and he just relaxed. When he came out of his journey, he said, ‘I went in there and saw this beautiful angel. This angel took my hand and showed me all this beauty within me. And then I realized this angel was really myself.’”
Sometimes it happens that quickly. Other times, it’s not so easy. “Ketamine is the most beautiful medicine and the easiest to work with. It’s accessible. It’s safe. It’s monitored. We have proper integration. But ketamine is not for sissies. There can be some hard work.”
When that hard work happens in the beautiful Field Trip Health locations, with relaxing music and comfortable places to rest, at least it’s pleasant. All this adds up for a more integrative experience that incorporates all the senses to help people recreate their narratives.
The Future of Psychedelic Therapies – A Pragmatic Approach
Field Trip Health is in the process of developing FT-104—a molecule that will mimic the effects of psychedelics within the brain, but lasts for a much shorter time period.
The company’s focus on creating a way to use some of the most effective treatments to date, while making them more accessible to everyone, could be construed as just another ploy to get control of the way people use psychedelics for healing. After all, Field Trip Health does aim to protect its intellectual property.
However, the company seeks to partner with nonprofits to provide discounted or free treatments to those in need. It currently offers free virtual Psychedelic Breathing and Integration Therapy, and free COVID Coping Therapy sessions for frontline workers.
Field Trip Health has also developed a free app, called Trip. Making use of neuroscience and psychology, it takes you on a self-guided journey to make the most of your consciousness expanding experiences. Even if that just means meditating at home.
“While we are of course entrepreneurs, we are more driven by impact than financial gain,” said Ronan Levy. The founders of the company want to see these groundbreaking treatments become more accessible and acceptable for the general public.
“What excites me, is that the psychedelic industry changes the platform for how we think about mental, emotional, and behavioral health. It’s the platform that will make mental health proactive.”
In a Psychedelic Renaissance happening at the height of capitalism and corporatization, some people need their trips to be more practical and pragmatic than your standard ego-dissolving magic mushroom journey.
While purists will argue that medicalizing psychedelics is objectionable, giving people a scientific, corporately-sanctioned outlet may be the fastest way of making them mainstream.
We do want everyone to have access to the benefits of some good, old fashioned consciousness expansion, don’t we?
Diagnoses for anxiety and depression are increasing at astronomical rates, opioid addictions are killing people in devastating numbers, and our mental healthcare systems are stretched beyond their limits.
The need for a safe, reliable, fast-acting salve for our mental health is now more urgent than ever; and psychedelics are showing up in all shapes and sizes to save the day.
With the help of non-profit TheraPsil, people suffering from severe or end-of-life depression have recently gained legal access to mushrooms through exemptions from Health Canada. Oregon’s Measure 109 legalized ‘shrooms in early November, paving the way for therapist-assisted dosing; and Numinus has been moving full-speed ahead with its research aiming to use psilocybin for addiction. The company also aims to study the use of MDMA for PTSD.
The one thing that most psychedelic experiences have in common, however, is that they are time-consuming. A treatment that lasts six to 12 hours is never practical in the world of medicine.
*Deena Nyer Mendlowitz is a theatrical improviser and comedian who openly shares her mental health journey, reducing stigma and normalizing the struggle. You can follow her on Twitter at @DeenaTypedThis.