Psychedelic-Based Therapy Blends Traditional and Alternative Treatments for Depression

psychotherapy session


In recent years, awareness is increasing around the idea that mental health is health. This focus on mental health is in turn reflected by new shifts in medical research and developing interest in alternative treatments for symptoms of depression.

One such treatment, championed by companies such as the Canada-based startup Field Trip Health, is psychedelic-based therapy. Utilizing ketamine, a legal psychedelic, providers like Field Trip Health combine alternative treatments with a traditional therapeutic setting, with doctors and specialists available during all sessions.

What to Know About Psychedelic-Based Therapies

Legality and Safety

There are several factors to consider when it comes to psychedelic therapy. Two of the first issues that may give pause are safety and legality. The regulations around psychedelics vary depending on your location. Within North America, ketamine-assisted therapies are both legal and have the ability to be prescribed by a physician. In 2019, the FDA approved Spravato, a ketamine-based nasal spray, for treatment-resistant depression.

Amy Morin, LCSW and Verywell Mind Editor-in-Chief, says, "Many people have safety concerns about psychedelics. While there is research on their effectiveness, more studies are needed to see how they could be administered safely in a way that alleviates mental health symptoms."

It's common to worry about "bad trips" when it comes to the usage of psychedelics. Ronan Levy, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Field Trip Health, says, however, that even difficult experiences with psychedelics are not without some benefit and can be therapeutic in the right circumstances.

Other considerations are pre-existing conditions that may serve as contraindications for psychedelic-assisted therapy. Prior to approving this method, physicians ensure that patients do not, for example, have hypertension or a history of psychosis.

While psychedelic intervention may be safe for many people, it's important to discuss these issues with your doctor before engaging in this or any other new treatment.

Your Comfort Matters

The energy and mindset that you enter a session with can impact your outcome. Levy says that the research over the last several decades stresses the importance of the setting when judging outcomes of psychedelic use.

"The mindset—which is the set that you bring into the experience, what kind of preparatory work, what kind of therapy have you done before the psychedelic experience, what intention you bring into the psychedelic experience—has an impact on the therapeutic outcomes," he says.

Time and Cost

Basic logistics present a possible issue for people thinking about trying psychedelic therapy. According to Field Trip Health, the effects of a ketamine session may last an hour. However, patients can expect to be at the center for two to three hours, as a ketamine session is often followed by a therapy session to process the thoughts and emotions triggered by the psychedelics.

Between taking time out of work, finding childcare, the need for space, a physician, and one or two therapists, psychedelic therapy is not without its costs. A two-week course of therapy with Field Trip Health, for example, can cost $2,400. Most individuals do a six-week course that may cost $5,900, which is too much for many people to manage.

Psychedelic Assisted vs. Traditional Therapies

"Traditional treatments for mental illness don't always work. Even common conditions, like depression and anxiety, often don't respond to medication and therapy," says Morin. "Researching alternative treatment methods could be instrumental in helping some people get relief from their symptoms."

Levy discusses the convergence of three factors that produce positive results for this therapy, all resulting in an altered outlook and a higher willingness to see alternate perspectives.

Most Psychedelics Are Rapid-Acting Antidepressants

“People feel a lift. Particularly if you're depressed, their mood improves significantly, usually within a half hour to an hour, as opposed to conventional antidepressants which take weeks, if not months.” Levy says.

Press Play for Advice On Treating Emotional Pain

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychologist Brian Pilecki, shares how psychedelics can be used to treat emotional pain. Click below to listen now.

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Psychedelics Enable Increased Communication Between Lobes of the Brain

Testing has been done on individuals participating in this therapy via a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI), and the results have indicated that areas of your brain that typically do not communicate have increased connection during these trips.

The Period of Neuroplasticity

Engaging in psychedelics can enable an individual to change their perspective, due to a period of neuroplasticity. This is where the brain becomes more open to creating new pathways, modes of thinking, and making connections.

Levy says, “Following a psychedelic experience, there's a period of neuroplasticity. Michael Pollan, in his book How To Change Your Mind, talks about it like a snow globe. You're kind of shaking everything out because as you grow old, you get into mental models, thinking patterns. With psychedelics, you're kind of shaking in a snow globe, which means there's an opportunity to re-craft how you think, how you habituate, whatever your outlook is.”

Levy likens this plasticity to the manner in which children are better able to learn new skills, such as a foreign language, before these mental models have become rigid as we age.

Continued Work

Alongside the course of psychedelics, there are additional steps to ensuring this therapy is successful. Field Trip Health suggests six sessions, but this is interwoven with talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), meditations, and interviews. Utilizing these more established therapeutic methods alongside newer treatments like ketamine may become more prevalent as the latter grow in popularity.

As with all treatments you're considering for any condition, physical or mental, it's crucial that you first speak with your doctor.

What This Means For You

If you are interested in exploring nontraditional options for therapeutic intervention, psychedelic-assisted therapy is a consideration. While this method may not be ideal for everyone, there have been several studies conducted showing efficacy over the years.

It is important to remember that you remained empowered to make the right decision for you, your desired outcomes, and your schedule.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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