Drugs

Toronto Just Opened a Ketamine Clinic to Help People With Depression

Field Trip Health is offering guided ketamine trips to people dealing with depression and anxiety.

by Manisha Krishnan
Mar 5 2020, 3:08pm

Field Trip Health will offer patients ketamine-based therapy. Photo via Field Trip Health

A new clinic that will offer ketamine therapy to people dealing with treatment resistant depression and anxiety is open in Toronto.

Field Trip Health is billing itself as the country’s “first medical centre dedicated exclusively to the administration of psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy.”

With weed legalization in the rearview, the movement to treat mental illness with psychedelics is gaining traction. This week, Toronto company Mind Medicine Inc., backed by former Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton, became the world’s first publicly-traded pharmaceutical psychedelics company. Last year, researchers launched the University of Toronto Centre for Psychedelic Studies, where they are gearing up for a study that looks at the effects of microdosing psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Meanwhile, the University of British Columbia Okanagan is conducting phase three of a study that looks at the impacts of MDMA on people with post-traumatic stress disorder; results have been promising so far.

But most psychedelics, including psilocybin and MDMA, are banned in Canada, with exceptions for clinical trials or research purposes.

Ketamine, a drug that’s primarily used as an anesthetic during surgeries, is legal, which is why it will be offered to patients at Field Trip.

While the clinic isn’t the first to offer ketamine treatments, medical director Michael Verbora said it is the first to incorporate psychotherapy services into treatments in an environment tailored to having a positive psychedelic experience. The softly lit space is decorated more like an upscale yoga studio than a doctor’s office, with comfy chairs for lounging, a moss wall, treatment rooms with names like “mountain” and “sea”, and a juice bar.

Here’s everything you need to know about the clinic:

How do I qualify for treatment?

To qualify, a person needs a referral recommending ketamine therapy from a psychiatrist. Field Trip will have a staff psychiatrist that can see patients. Candidates who qualify will most likely be people dealing with treatment-resistant depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If a person meets the criteria, they will undergo a physical assessment looking at things like blood work and other medications they’re on to make sure there’s no reason they shouldn’t be taking ketamine.

What are the treatments like?

A typical patient would undergo 8-10 sessions of psychotherapy and 4-6 doses of ketamine. A session that involves both therapy and the ketamine treatment would run around two hours, starting with therapy, and a discussion about one’s goals and intentions as well as drug tolerance. Then a patient would be injected with a dose of ketamine in their arm or leg.

The ketamine sessions take place in a treatment room equipped with a reclining armchair, noise cancelling headphones playing “introspective” music, and an eye mask.

Verbora said the ketamine will kick in within a couple of minutes and lasts about 45 minutes to an hour. Patients are monitored while they’re medicated. Afterwards, they debrief on what they experienced in a post-treatment room.

“We want to provide your brain an opportunity to disassociate,” Verbora said.

What are the potential benefits?

Though more research is needed, ketamine has been associated with an up to 85 percent reduction in symptoms for people with treatment-resistant depression; studies have also shown that it can provide fast relief for people with suicidal ideation.

In contrast, Verbora said many pharmaceutical drugs aren’t effective for depression, and can cause side-effects or a numbness to all emotions.

He said that patients who take ketamine can expect to have their brains disassociate and have a euphoric out-of-body experience, or to feel their “ego dissolve.”

“There may be some darkness that you have to kind of face,” he added, pointing to childhood trauma as one example.

Will I K-hole?

K-holing is a term for people who get too high off ketamine recreationally, and may hallucinate or have an out-of-body experience, or feel temporarily unable to move.

Verbora said the term doesn’t really apply to what will happen in the clinic, because everything will be closely monitored, controlled, and is designed to provide a relaxing and beneficial experience.

“If it requires it and it's appropriate, then yeah, they'll have a psychedelic experience,” he said. “We dont view that as a negative experience.”

How much does it cost?

Sessions will cost between $200-$400, depending on if it’s a therapy session, a dosing session, or an integrated session involving both. The therapy aspect may be covered by some health benefit plans. Ketamine as a treatment for depression isn’t covered by drug plans.

Will other psychedelics be offered?

Not yet. But Verbora said he hopes more people will be able to access psychedelics as attitudes shift and research increases.

“If you come back in a year from now, we may be running psilocybin trials on anorexia or MDMA-assisted therapy for trauma.”

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