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Saturday, September 24, 2022

How ketamine therapy helped this Canadian veteran

“Ketamine slowed me down in so many ways and that’s what’s helped me. Before I would get mad at something small, where I shouldn’t be mad at all. Now I stop and think and say ‘Do I really need to put that energy into being mad at something like this?’”

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By: Sam Riches


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Canadian Forces veteran Scott Atkinson says he was a different person a year ago.

After a 25 year military career, including two tours of Afghanistan, the former master corporal struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and chronic pain. He was quick to anger and could be set off unexpectedly. Self-medicating with alcohol and opioids made things worse, but, for a while, that’s what he did to cope.

After finding some relief in medical cannabis, he became interested in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Then he went through six sessions of ketamine therapy at Field Trip’s Toronto clinic .

“It’s changed my life,” he says. “It’s given me a way to go now. I’m not as angry all the time. The anxiety isn’t there all the time. It’s better with my family and with my kids. A year ago I was a completely different person.”

It’s harder now, Atkinson says, for the rage to break through and upend his days.

“Ketamine slowed me down in so many ways and that’s what’s helped me,” he says. “Before I would get mad at something small, where I shouldn’t be mad at all. Now I stop and think and say ‘Do I really need to put that energy into being mad at something like this?’ And it’s saved a lot of problems for me and my family.”

Ketamine can induce a “transpersonal dissociative experience,” where the sense of self extends beyond the individual to “ encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos .”


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It works in a way that’s similar to other psychedelic therapies, by taking consumers out of their “default mode network,” Dr. Michael Verbora, the medical director for Field Trip Toronto told The GrowthOp last year.

“We have 99 per cent of the same thoughts every day,” Verbora explains. “Your brain, after age 10 or 11, gets stuck in this circuit, it forms a lot of biases and beliefs about the world. These psychedelics disrupt this pattern of thinking. You wake up the next day and you’re kind of looking at things from a different perspective and questioning a lot of your assumptions.”

A 2019 study published in The Annals of Clinical Psychiatry tracked the efficacy of treating 30 U.S. military veterans with combat-related PTSD with six one-hour long ketamine infusions. Participants self-reported changes in symptoms of depression, PTSD and substance use prior to the first and last infusion. Over the six sessions, symptoms of depression were nearly halved and symptoms of PTSD also dropped significantly. Self-reported substance use also trended down during the study period.

A few months before that study was published, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new antidepressant for the first time in decades, a nasal spray that mimics the effects of ketamine.

Other psychedelic wellness companies, like Vancouver-based Delic, also offer ketamine therapy programs designed for veterans. Earlier this month, the company announced partnerships between Veterans Administration Community Care Networks of Illinois and Minnesota and its Ketamine Wellness Centers, offering ketamine treatments to veterans at no out-of-pocket cost .


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In July, Toronto-based Braxia Scientific Corp., a medical research company, announced that it is now able to offer 100 per cent coverage of oral, nasal spray and intravenous ketamine treatments, plus travel costs, for qualifying Canadian military veterans .

According to Atkinson, the need for these sorts of treatments among the veteran population cannot be overstated.

“It’s amazing how many people are interested,” he says. “On the physical and mental health side of it, it could possibly put people in a spot where they don’t need a certain medication. When you’re on different mental health prescriptions, it takes a toll on the brain and the body.”

One of the most common things he hears from other veterans who are interested in pursuing psychotherapy, however, is the hope that the treatment will stop their reliance on alcohol.

“As we know, alcohol is a huge problem with veterans who suffer from PTSD, and everything that goes along with it, the depression, the anxiety, the chronic pain,” he says. “They’re self-medicating in their own way.”

Last month, Atkinson was in New Brunswick for the grand opening of Field Trip’s Fredericton clinic, the ninth overall for the company. Other locations are in large city centres, like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But with a large concentration of veterans on the east coast, Field Trip co-founder and executive chairman Ronan Levy believes the Fredericton clinic will help eliminate geographic barriers for veterans interested in accessing treatment.


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Ronan Levy Cropped

“We’ve seen incredible responses from the military veterans that we’ve served in Toronto and many of those individuals that came to Toronto are based in and around Fredericton,” he told The GrowthOp in late September. “So we decided to open up in Fredericton to make it more accessible to the military population there.”

The company offers a specific treatment program for military veterans, consisting of six ketamine-assisted therapy sessions tailored to address the needs of the client.

“PTSD is often the primary diagnosis, but there are often depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms. So we treat all of them. Sometimes, it’ll be someone who comes in with trauma and depression, but not necessarily specifically a diagnosis of PTSD,” Levy says.

As he speaks, he’s walking along Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, where he’s attending CodeCon, a tech development conference. In the days ahead, Levy will make headlines when he asks Elon Musk if he supports psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.

Although Musk offers a rather tepid endorsement — “I think generally people should be open to psychedelics” — his response draws the attention of attendees and social media.

It is also a response Atkinson is increasingly hearing. He is also an ambassador with Ontario-based CannaConnect, a medical cannabis company that helps veterans understand and access medical cannabis treatment, and he’s noticed how people respond differently to each form of therapy.


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“I find that [psychedelic therapy] is being accepted better than cannabis was. Maybe it’s because we lived our lives with cannabis in the news every day. And I don’t think psychedelics were there as much, so it wasn’t beaten in everybody’s head that it’s bad, bad, bad. That’s my opinion. But it is more widely accepted than cannabis was, or still is, in some cases.”

This is despite the fact that many psychedelic therapies, such as psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, involve using substances that remain illegal and are difficult to access. In January, Atkinson applied to the federal government for a Section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act so he could legally pursue psilocybin therapy. He says he has yet to hear back.

And though he understands that the pandemic takes priority, he lets a sigh escape as he mentions his frustration. “As we know, this could help a lot of people,” he says. “And it’s simple.”

He admits that psychedelic therapies aren’t for everyone but in his own life, and for many around him, they have proven successful.

“It’s not only the veterans,” he says. “It’s anybody. Anybody can do this. And with the work that you put in, the changes that you can come up with are life-saving. Not life-changing, life-saving.”

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