How psychedelics are changing the world of mental health
Field Trip Health in Toronto is leading the psychedelic therapy revolution. Here’s everything you need to know.
Image credit: Field Trip
We need to rethink mental health treatments.
Covid-19 has taken a toll on our collective state of mind, and in the wake of wave three, we’re suffering. A study by the Canadian Mental Health Association at the start of wave two revealed that a staggering 40 percent of our population – and 45 percent of women – believed their mental health was deteriorating. As depression, anxiety and Covid malaise are pushing many to their breaking point, need mounts for a new approach to feeling better. Antidepressants don’t work for everybody, but luckily, a paradigm shift in mental health management is picking up speed in Canada: psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
What is psychedelic psychotherapy?
Ketamine, LSD , MDMA, mescalin, mushrooms – they’re not just illegal party drugs anymore. Since the turn of the 21st century, researchers have been studying the power of psychedelics in treating PTSD and severe depression with sweeping success rates. “As you look at psychedelics, these molecules stand poised to fundamentally revolutionize how we consider mental, emotional and behavioral health,” says Ronan Levy, co-founder of Field Trip, a Canadian company that’s pioneering the therapeutic psychedelics industry.
On psychedelics, patients are more open to change and exploration through therapy. Psychedelics can release our minds from incessant circular loops and have the power to alter how we view the world and our relationship to it. Psychedelics create an opportunity for self-awareness and self-compassion, putting you in the mental space to overcome stress, bad habits, lack of purpose or feeling lost. Since research is in its infancy, only more mild drugs are legalized for therapeutic use. The most important thus far? Ketamine.
Image credit: Field Trip
How does ketamine treat depression?
“Ketamine has been looked at for well over 20 years in terms of treating psychiatric disorders,” says Dr. Sidney Kennedy, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, and an advisor to Field Trip, a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy centre that practises ketamine-based treatments in their downtown Toronto office. He explains that drugs such as Prozac, where serotonin and norepinephrine are part of the mechanism, don’t work for a whopping one-third of patients. Ketamine, on the other hand, “works through different transmitter systems in the brain, and it seems to work much more rapidly than traditional treatments.” In fact, ketamine combined with therapy can net same-day results, and achieve in just five or six sessions what would take months or even years with therapy alone. “We’re supercharging therapy by using ketamine to open the mind to go deeper, faster, quicker and to alleviate substantial suffering, such as suicidality or severe depression, really quickly,” explains Dr. Michael Verbora, an expert in psychedelic medicine and Medical Director of Field Trip.
A snapshot of the ketamine therapy experience.
If you’re suffering from depression, anxiety or trauma and finding that your current medicine and therapy doesn’t work, and are considering ketamine-guided therapy, here’s what will happen: First, a Care Coordinator will conduct a psychological assessment to see if this kind of therapy is right for you. Next, they’ll build a personalized treatment plan that is typically carried out over the course of four weeks. Finally, patients will visit the downtown Toronto clinic. There, after short intake exam where their blood pressure and other medical basics are checked, they’ll take a sublingual dose of ketamine under the guidance of their psychotherapist. Then, in a comfy chair with their feet up, wearing an eye mask and headphones playing synergistic music, they’ll relax, release their anxiety, and enter a new mind space. After about an hour, a psychotherapist (who’s been in the room the whole time) will guide them through their psychotherapy session and work to reframe negative thought patterns. In the treatment plan that follows these ketamine sessions, psychotherapists will help you integrate your new mindset with day-to-day life.
Image credit: Field Trip
Does ketamine therapy work?
The use of psychedelics dates back 1000s of years. Until recently, restrictive drug laws made it impossible to study, but today, Canada is leading the charge with research in this category, recognizing that this biomedical-psychosocial approach with psychedelics actually works. “Multiple evidence-based studies from world-class institutions like New York University and Johns Hopkins have demonstrated that using psychedelics and psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy can have profound, sustained results in as little as one session in addition to having positive side effects such as improved well-being, optimism and increased neural plasticity,” Dr. Verbora explains. “Ketamine has been identified by the former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health as one of the most important breakthroughs in antidepressant treatment in decades.”
What’s next in psychedelic psychotherapy?
“Psychedelics have the potential to not only reimagine how we think about mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD but also how we think about creativity, empathy and consciousness,” says Ronan Levy. Dr Verbora adds: “As new molecules or classic psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD and MDMA get approved or legalized, we will begin to incorporate them into the practice as well.” Field Trip is breaking down the stigma of psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy, and opening a new world – literally and figuratively – to people in Canada and beyond.