Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

A Ketamine treatment room in Tampa Florida.

Psychedelic Treatment for Depression: How to avoid a crash landing. Part 5

by James Porter March 22, 2024

Pictured above: A Ketamine treatment room in Tampa Florida.

In this 7-part series, we’ve been looking at the connection between EAPs and issues in the workplace around treating depression and other mood disorders. In the first three installments we looked at the problems caused by psychedelics – in particular the story of a depressed Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to self-medicate with psychedelic mushrooms and ended up nearly crashing the commercial plane he was flying in. We also discussed the role that EAP could have played in preventing that incident from happening in the first place.

In this installment, we’ll look at what I learned at an all-day EAP conference held in Connecticut featuring two prominent researchers from Yale Medical School who are exploring the use of psychedelics for treating a variety of mental health problems. 

Yes, what we’re talking about here is tripping. When taking LSD, these trips can last up to 24 hours and stay in your system for days and weeks afterward. The Alaska Airlines pilot we wrote about was still feeling the effects of the psychedelic mushrooms he consumed 3 days after taking them.

But the way these drugs are administered today, as opposed to how they’ve been used recreationally in the past, is truly a game changer. For one thing, the dosages are much less potent; to create an experience that may last only a few hours (or less) rather than days. Secondly, there are 3 different psychedelics to choose from, each with different properties and strengths.

One psychedelic called Ketamine, has already been legalized for use by prescription. It’s also the least powerful and creates the shortest “trip,” typically an hour or less. A ketamine treatment is usually administered under the auspices of a mental health professional – a guide if you will - who stays with you the entire time and sees you through the experience. A key part of this new treatment approach includes a follow-up session with a psychotherapist to help you make sense of what happened to you while you were experiencing your psychedelic trip.  (From what I can tell from talking to someone who has done the Ketamine treatment several times, the imagery you see – excuse the vernacular here – is far out! He experienced being in his mother’s womb, for example. BTW, this is a very serious, straight-laced guy!).

Probably the most remarkable thing about prescribing psychedelics for certain mental health issues is that in some cases just ONE DOSAGE can bring about long-lasting results. We’re not talking about relief lasting days or weeks here – and unlike anti-depressants that can take weeks to kick in - we’re talking one dosage providing immediate relief and lasting for months and possibly years.

One of the bits of old video you’ll see in the Netflix series, on this subject, titled, Changing Your Mind, which I wrote about in Part 4, is of Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA talking about the LSD trip he took back in the 1950’s. That trip inspired him to give up drinking and start AA. This was well before LSD was incorrectly placed on the list of dangerous “controlled substances” banned by the US government and was no longer legal to take. One dose apparently changed Bill Wilson for life.

These Ketamine treatments usually involve at a minimum, three sessions: A short preliminary session (to make sure that the patient doesn’t have issues with high blood pressure or a history of cardiac problems), then, a longer treatment session (where the drug is administered) and a follow-up session with a psychologist  This meeting is necessary to convert insights that were gained during the “trip” into actual behavioral change. The theory being that right after the treatment the brain is “ripe for change and very plastic.”

These Ketamine treatments (and other psychedelic treatments) are still in the early stages so it’s too soon to tell whether the changes many people experience after just one dosing session are indeed PERMANENT but as you will learn in the next installment the preliminary evidence would suggest that they ARE!

James Porter
James Porter