Americans pay to send a star of the psychedelic medicine movement — ketamine — to them for at-home mental health treatments that have been called both a breakthrough and a gamble.
A pandemic-induced easing of prescription rules has seen a leap in telemedicine offerings of ketamine, an anesthetic that was once a taboo party drug but has become a popular antidepressant.
But large-scale, long-term studies of ketamine’s medical impact are limited, leading some experts to worry that an unregulated online boom could lead to accidents or a regulatory crackdown.
“This needs to be rolled out slowly,” said Boris Heifets, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Stanford University. “The risk is that we scale the solution, but not the solution, which is a much more integrated approach to mental health.”
Ketamine has been available in the United States since the 1970s as an anesthetic called a “dissociative” due to its hallucinogenic effects that helped make it a rave culture drug.
It is legal for US doctors to prescribe, while some other psychedelics that are receiving renewed attention for mental health use, such as LSD or MDMA (also known as ecstasy), are classified as having no medical benefit and a high risk of abuse. .
In this context, there has been an increase in clinics offering personal intravenous ketamine treatments for depression, anxiety or chronic pain in recent years, although regulations and practices differ across US states.
Then came the pandemic, which allowed US authorities to remotely prescribe drugs such as ketamine that previously required a face-to-face visit.
An increasing number of companies, some of which had already been treated in the clinic, began offering to evaluate customers online and send the drugs for home use to approved candidates.
Nue Life, which launched about a year ago, is one of those companies. Its CEO Juan Pablo Cappello estimated that it has helped more than 3,000 ketamine patients to date.
“Obviously when you zoom in on the kind of potential for abuse here, you realize they exist, but we’re creating a standard of care to make that quite unlikely,” he told AFP.
For example, he noted that customers are instructed to have an adult “babysitter” watch over them for about 90 minutes that the drug experience lasts, and he reasoned that people just looking for ketamine could get it cheaper on the street. .
Customers of the service, which costs $1,250 for a pack of six ketamine experiences, are encouraged but not required to combine it with therapy, Cappello said.
“The at-home telemedicine model, I would say, is actually safer and more effective for patients,” he added, adding that more patients can “really benefit from these therapies.”
Heifets, the Stanford researcher, noted that making ketamine available poses risks, including the chance that authorities would tighten access if home treatment led to some sort of tragedy.
‘Change your life’
U.S. regulators approved a type of ketamine in 2019 specifically for adults with treatment-resistant depression, but with strict regulations, such as requiring patients to be monitored by a healthcare provider for at least two hours after their dose.
Americans have “a hair-trigger for solving problems through lawsuits,” Heifets noted of the potential for lawsuits if things go wrong.
He was part of a team that analyzed the true effectiveness of intravenous ketamine therapy — which may involve higher doses than the home services — and reported that most patients improved, although about eight percent said depressive symptoms worsened after treatment.
“We have very, very little evidence for our understanding of how effective ketamine is for depression on a large scale,” he added.
But for people like 36-year-old New Yorker Philip Markle, who received treatment at home at a company called Mindbloom, ketamine is a very useful tool.
During his long battle with depression, the performer and comedian has tried medication, psychedelics such as LSD and talk therapy since he was 12, but he found something unique in ketamine.
Rather than the momentary sense of change that other treatments gave, ketamine provided a sense of clarity and helpful self-acceptance—not the harsh effects he’d experienced with other psychedelics.
“It felt like a drug could be delivered through the mail, and you could use a psychedelic on your own that could change your life, this would be it,” he told AFP.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)