The use of psychedelic treatments for mental health treatment is gaining popularity across the country.
In most cases, Schedule I substances, like MDMA and psilocybin, are labeled as drugs with a high risk for abuse and no accepted medical use.
“We see a lot of folks that have treatment-resistant depression,” said Denise Hosier, a nurse practitioner at Wellpower, formerly known as the Mental Health Center of Denver, in Colorado. “By the time that we see them here, they may have lost jobs, they may have lost benefits that they had before.”
For the last year, Hosier has helped administer esketmaine, a derivative of the Schedule III substance, ketamine, at her approved clinic. Wellpower is the only clinic in the state that administers esketamine, a dissociative drug, to help combat treatment-resistant depression, a severe form of the mental illness. It affects 30.9% of those diagnosed with depression, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Where therapy and medications like anti-depressants alone fail, esketamine is proven to work in some cases.
“I was floored. Like, wow, I have never looked at myself that way before. And maybe 10 more years of meditation would’ve done it, but it was a big change,” said Eric, who did not want to provide his last name.
Eric was diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression earlier this year and signed up for esketamine treatments. The drug works as it disassociates a person from their feelings; allowing them to look at them, and analyze them, without feeling the sometimes-debilitating paralysis from them.
For people like Eric, who have tried other therapies to no avail, esketamine treatment feels like the only way forward.
“It lets you learn from your feelings, which is pretty amazing,” he said. “Depression feels like you can’t do much, and so taking some of those responsibilities back, suddenly I felt like I could handle that.”
In 2017, the FDA labeled MDMA, one of the compounds found in ecstasy, a breakthrough therapy for PTSD, expediting its development and review. In 2019, the same was done for esketamine. And now, other drugs, like psilocybin, which are found in psychedelic mushrooms, are being reviewed for their benefits for anxiety and depression.
In 2019, the FDA labeled psilocybin a breakthrough therapy and in 2020 Oregon became the first state to legalize its use in treating mental health disorders.
“The results we’ve seen have been really great,” said Hosier. “People have hope and they get some relief from their depression and so that’s been really great to see.”