The atmosphere inside Field Trip Health’s New York City clinic is more of a quiet spa than a doctor’s office.
Tucked away on the 11th floor of a nondescript building, you can barely hear the hustle and bustle of the busy street. Instead, this ketamine clinic feels like a Zen oasis, peppered with twinkling lights, lush greenery, and comfy meditation pillows.
That vibe is partly why 51-year-old Chere Scythes returned on a chilly Thursday night for another ketamine treatment.
“Some of my friends and colleagues were trying ketamine and other types of psychedelic treatments,” Scythes said. But they seemed like different people, people I’ve known for 20 years.There’s been a big change in them.”
Scythes first sought ketamine therapy last winter when she realized that a series of traumatic events had taken its toll, including the death of her mother to alcohol abuse, a divorce, and most recently the loss of her best friend. Over the years, she has tried antidepressants, but they have not worked, she said. Meditation and therapy have helped, but not enough.
“After taking some time off from work and meditating, I realized that I had a deep sadness and anxiety in my heart,” she said.
Ketamine is a hallucinogen that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an anesthetic for decades, but is also used illegally as a party drug. In 2019, the FDA approved a version called esketamine, or Spravato, after studies found it to be effective against disease. It is a doctor’s office and is only approved for people for whom other treatments have failed.
But in recent years, even before Spravato was approved, a new industry has emerged. A ketamine clinic that provides off-label medications as infusions or injections for a variety of mental health issues. “Off label” use means that the drug is not specifically approved for such conditions.
At Field Trip, a national chain of clinics that has offered ketamine-supported psychotherapy for several mental health conditions since 2019, patients are first screened to determine if they are eligible for treatment. If so, the patient will receive an injection of ketamine while lounging in an eye mask and guided meditation by a clinician. You will also meet with your therapist before and after your “trip”.
“Patients say, ‘This changed my life,'” said Mike Dow, a psychotherapist at the Field Trip clinic in Los Angeles.
Exactly how ketamine works in the brain is unknown.Similar to traditional antidepressants, Dow says it boosts feel-good chemicals, reduces inflammation, and promotes new habits and behaviors. It is believed that new neural pathways related to the ability to generate
According to Dow, people are also experiencing psychedelic experiences that make them feel spiritual, which in themselves can boost moods.
But as the number of new ketamine clinics surges and centers pop up across the country, some doctors fear the unregulated industry is at risk.
The drug is FDA-approved, so any doctor can prescribe it off-label. Clinics are not federally regulated, but are subject to the same state laws as other outpatient clinics.
Smita Das, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said: of the American Psychiatric Association Addict Psychiatric Council. “My concern is that people who need treatment spend money and energy on these unproven ketamine clinics.
Treatment can be expensive, averaging $400 to $800 per session, according to Kathryn Walker, CEO of Revitalist, a chain of clinics that offer ketamine infusions. is not covered by insurance.
Side effects may also occur, such as changes in mood and blood pressure, nausea, and drowsiness.
Das and Dow also say they are concerned that some clinics may be offering drugs without supervision.
Only a few small studies have examined its benefits for other mental health conditions besides treatment-resistant depression, and the American Psychiatric Association does not provide specific guidelines for its use.
“People rarely experience paranoia or suicidal thoughts,” says Das. “And many of these clinics are not staffed with mental health professionals. When these mental health concerns come up, they may not be prepared to respond appropriately.” .”
Ketamine is also not a panacea. Not everyone responds to treatment, and some people may become ineffective, said Dr. Subdeep Burke, director of the Treatment-Resistant Depression Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. increase.
Burke, who has been treating patients with ketamine since 2018, said: “It’s very difficult to predict who will respond and how long it will last.
Lynette Ebberts, 66, said ketamine was a lifeline for her. For nearly 40 years, she said, she had tried dozens of combinations of antidepressants, electroconvulsive therapy, and treatments for severe depression, but nothing worked.
In 2016, before most people had heard of ketamine for depression, a therapist recommended a nearby clinic where she lived in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“‘Yes, when and where?’ I said,” she said. “I was desperate to feel better.
Ebberts said the 45-minute infusion felt like a dream and he saw vivid colors and shapes in it. After she had three treatments in a week, she said something started to change.
“I started feeling like I could get out of bed,” she said. “Those deep dark clouds of depression began to lift.”
She remains on ketamine therapy in combination with antidepressants and is currently receiving treatments once every 5 weeks.
Unlike Ebberts, Scythes does not return to the infirmary regularly.
She remembers her first treatment vividly. She saw herself as a little girl playing in the woods that she loved in her childhood. And she saw her late mother nearly 20 years ago.
“I told her how much I loved her and how much I missed her, and I felt this unconditional love for her that I didn’t feel when she was alive,” she said. . “When it was over, the deep sadness that had been in my body for so long was gone.”
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