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New B.C. clinic offers ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (VIDEO)

The ketamine experience can vary among patients

A new clinic in Kelowna is offering ketamine-assisted therapy to help those suffering from treatment-resistant depression.

The EntheoMed Ketamine Suite in the Capri Centre Mall has recently completed its first four-week program with several patients, and the unique clinic is opening its doors to the wider public next month.

While ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic, was first synthesized in 1962 and has been used as anaesthesia for decades, its antidepressive effects have been studied in recent years.

When administered at a lower dose than used in anaesthesia, ketamine can produce a psychedelic effect that EntheoTech Bioscience Inc. CEO Fraser Johnston says is integral to the treatment.

“Lots of people say that psychedelic experience is kind of an unwanted side effect ... but we actually really encourage that altered state and that psychedelic experience because that's where you can have these unique insights or perspective changes,” Johnston said.

“Then we really want to harness what happens in that psychedelic experience, investigate it with the help of a psychotherapist and our psychedelic facilitator with these other tools, to really crack that nut open and create long-term positive outcomes.

“If you're struggling with some sort of mental health issue, imagine a ski slope where it hasn't snowed for five weeks; you have these really defined ruts and grooves down the mountain. That psychedelic experience is basically like a fresh dump of snow that allows people to start creating new pathways and new connections and kind of reframe their perspective.”

The four-week program offered at EntheoMed includes three ketamine experiences administered in their clinic, along with “integration” techniques like psychotherapy, mindfulness training, breath work, yoga and meditation. While the clinic is just targeting those with treatment resistant depression at this time, EntheoMed's medical director Dr. Anita Sanan says they may expand to those suffering from other mental health impacts like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder in the future.

Dr. Sanan, a certified anesthesiologist at Kelowna General Hospital, says the ketamine experience can vary among patients.

“Some people will just feel relaxed and calm during a ketamine treatment, some people will have potentially a feeling of dissociation, like being out of body or feeling like they're floating above themselves, and some people can have mystical experiences where they may see things or experience things in a completely different pattern or a completely different way then they have before,” Dr. Sanan said. “They can also revisit some of their past traumatic experience but see them through a different perspective and that's actually what we're trying to capitalize on, is that experience.

“Ketamine is just the catalyst to get our brains to sort of become a little bit more plastic or change so that you can break or disrupt negative thought processes of loops, but if you don't capitalize on that change or harness that change, then the effect of ketamine will wear away. You really have to integrate with intention, you have to integrate with psychotherapy to make lasting improvements such that that ketamine effect that you got will actually be sustained.”

A recent study out of UBC Okanagan reviewed more than 150 studies on ketamine's efficacy in treating mental illness, and determined the drug has “significant anti-depressant and anti-suicidal effects.”

While EntheoMed's treatment method is an “off-label” use of Ketamine – used in a manner not specifically approved by Health Canada – it's perfectly legal to experience what's colloquially called a ketamine “trip” when it's administered in the clinical setting.

“Most medications throughout medical history have been developed for one process or one disease and have been utilize for multiple others, those are all considered off-label uses of that medication,” said Dr. Sanan.

“The ketamine that we use in clinic through an inter-muscular injection is actually a far lower dose than what we use in anaesthesia or in the emergency department because we're trying to achieve a different effect.”

But while ketamine is currently one of the only legal substances for psychedelic-assisted therapy, research has shown promising results for MDMA and psilocybin – the hallucinogenic compound in ”magic mushrooms.”

“I think you'll see psilocybin be regulated in a clinic like this within potentially two to five years and MDMA will come along with that as well,” Johnston predicted.

EntheoMed's four-week program costs $5,600, but Johnston says some insurance companies may cover a up to 25 per cent of the psychotherapy portion of the program.

“As this sort of therapy gets more mainstream, more and more benefit providers and insurance companies will switch on to this, because their covering things like SSRIs and if we can show that this has high efficacy, more and more insurance providers will come on board to cover this kind of treatment,” Johnston said.

Those interested in the program will first need a referral from their doctor and Johnston says they already have about 200 people who've expressed interest. More information can be found on EntheoMed's website.