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    I Tried Ketamine Therapy For My Depression, And I Made Some Wins Along The Way

    I've had depression for years now. I finally turned to a ketamine clinic for help.

    My name is Lara and I, like approximately 9.5% of American adults aged 18 and older, live with depression. I got this statistic from Johns Hopkins, but as many people living with any sort of mental disorder know, sometimes mental health disorders can go misdiagnosed or underreported because of things like lack of access to care. And there's also the whole thing of doctors really not listening to women and their pain, especially if you aren't thin and white.

    Image of the author
    Lara Parker

    Technically speaking, I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (also commonly referred to as clinical depression), anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorderAccording to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, approximately 1 in 4 American adults ages 18 and over will suffer from a depressive illness (major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia) each year. And women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men. 

    For years now, I have been treading water, barely staying afloat. I lost interest in, well, everything and I routinely found myself struggling to remember that I was a person with a life and a place in this world despite the heavy cloud of depression consuming my every waking thought. In my late 20s, I began self-medicating with cannabis. I have been using cannabis to manage my chronic physical pain for many years now with great success. And in doing so, I noticed that cannabis helped lift my spirits as well. But while cannabis offered me amazing relief in the short term, it was ultimately just a bandage on a bullet hole made by depression and anxiety, and didn't necessarily get to the root of my problem.

    An image of the author with a marijuana joint in their hand
    Lara Parker / Via instagram.com

    Prior to turning to cannabis though, I experimented with a lot of different treatments. I tried several different types of antidepressants, I went to weekly therapy, I shifted around my birth control and hormones, and I even tried journaling, among other trendy internet things. And while these are great options for many people and while I would find moments of relief, the heavy cloud of depression that followed me everywhere I went had yet to disappear. And most days, I could barely notice it lessening at all. 

    It may go without saying but so many of the treatment options and care available for mental health disorders are dependent on access. I have health insurance, I've had money to go to therapy, I've had money to refill prescriptions. In so, so many ways, I have been more privileged than a large portion of people who live with depression, and I think that's really important to keep in mind as we discuss this journey with depression and the new journey I am going to take you on — the one with ketamine therapy. 

    During the height of the pandemic (which is, of course, still ongoing), I had a lot of time to think. Too much time. And my depression became something I could no longer do my best to compartmentalize somewhere in the back of my brain. I knew I needed — and wanted — to seek some sort of solution out. After watching one too many episodes of Hamilton's Pharmacopeia and reading one too many studies on psychedelics and mental health, I began to think a lot more about introducing psychedelics into my life.

    A stock image of what Getty Images thinks psychedelics look like, aka someone's brain exploding with beautiful colors
    Wildpixel / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    While I wanted my experience to be something like this stock picture seen above, my experience with psychedelics prior to pursuing ketamine therapy could be best described as, "She ingested shrooms in the woods once and it was fun and enlightening, but ultimately she would be interested in exploring it more and would remember to drink more water next time."

    However, unfortunately I live in the United States, where most psychedelics are criminalized. That makes access risky and impossible for most. But while many of your classic psychedelics are inaccessible and downright illegal, ketamine is not. Enter ketamine therapy clinics. According to DoubleBlind magazine, a magazine dedicated to information around psychedelics, there is an estimated 600 ketamine clinics in America as we speak. And while there is limited data on the ketamine clinic market, it's estimated to be worth upward of $100 billion.

    Stock image of ketamine in pill form
    Cole Burston / AFP via Getty Images

    According to Shelby Hartman, editor-in-chief of DoubleBind magazine, ketamine clinics may be helping to develop the infrastructure for the eventual legalization of psychedelics in a medical setting. She told BuzzFeed, "Ketamine clinics are in large part paving the way for this, you know, multibillion, perhaps multitrillion, dollar psychedelic industry that's burgeoning. While it's debatable whether ketamine is considered a psychedelic, the clinics are allowing for the sort of development of an infrastructure and the hiring of staff and related things that will be needed once psilocybin and MDMA are eventually approved by the FDA."

    Hartman told BuzzFeed, "While ketamine is an interesting option for people who really want to have this experience now and people who want to do it 'above ground' in the United States, it's important to understand that ketamine is a very different medicine than, say, LSD or psilocybin. And that even if you've had some experience in the past, you should always do your research and think about what exactly you're looking to get out of the experience where you decide which substance you're going to take."

    So what exactly is ketamine therapy and why is it something that people are pursuing for treatment of their depression? Ketamine was first discovered in the 1950s at Parke-Davis and Company's laboratories in Detroit; though, it didn't receive its first patent in the US for human use until 1966.

    Now, depending on whom you speak to, ketamine is not always considered a traditional psychedelic in the way that, say, psilocybin (aka shrooms) is. But ketamine does possess hallucinogenic capabilities. Classified as a "dissociative anesthetic," ketamine has also been classified more broadly as a hallucinogen.

    Because of my (very limited) experience with psilocybin and because of the promising research around psychedelics and depression, I was immediately sold on the idea of trying out ketamine therapy. Furthermore, because of my location in Los Angeles and because I enjoyed my tour of the clinic when I went to visit, I decided to pursue ketamine therapy at Field Trip Health, located in Santa Monica, California.

    An image of the Field Trip logo
    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    Field Trip first opened its doors with its first clinic in Toronto in March 2020. While there are some online-adjacent clinics that you can pursue from the treatment of your own home (with the assistance of an online therapist), I wanted the full experience of going to the clinic. I also wanted to know that I was in good hands! Sure, my boyfriend could take care of me during a ketamine trip, but he's not a doctor and I wanted to go into this experience knowing that I was safe should anything negative occur. 

    Before I could begin treatments, I had to meet with one of Field Trip Health's psychotherapists to make sure I was a good candidate for ketamine therapy. After about an hour-long session during which we discussed my mental health history in great detail, I was approved for treatment. You may be wondering, who exactly is a good candidate for ketamine therapy? According to Dr. Mike Dow, a psychotherapist on staff at Field Trip Health, it's someone with treatment-resistant depression who has an open mind and is generally in good physical health.

    An image of the entryway to Field Trip Health's clinic in Canada
    Lara Parker

    He added that people with anxiety and PTSD are also good candidates. Generally speaking, people who need relief and are ready to do some really deep and profound work are great candidates. But with that being said, not everyone is a fit and certain medical conditions or diagnoses could produce adverse reactions. So it's very important to be honest and upfront about your diagnoses and experience with mental health if and when you decide to pursue ketamine therapy in a clinic. 

    Once I was officially approved for treatment, I began to schedule my sessions. At the start of this experience, my assigned therapist and I agreed that we would aim for six total sessions of ketamine therapy. Each session is accompanied by an "online integration" with your therapist the next day. It's time set aside to discuss in depth what may have come up for you during your ketamine session. Here's what my initial schedule looked like:

    My Field Trip Health schedule of six sessions + integrations
    Lara Parker

    As you can see above with my schedule, my first-ever session was scheduled at 2 p.m. This was an OK time but they do ask that you fast for at least four hours prior to your session so the mornings of session days were hard for that reason. If I'm being honest, the 10 a.m. treatment time was my preferred time, because I didn't have to fast for super long and had the rest of the day to recover.

    And — before we continue — because cost is a crucial part of accessing ketamine therapy, here's more information on the cost of treatments: Initial sessions at Field Trip Health start at $750.

    An image of a patient in a chair with headphones on getting ready for ketamine therapy
    Cole Burston / AFP via Getty Images

    It's not cheap, and therefore not accessible to many people living with depression. I hope we see this change in our lifetime. After the initial $750, the total cost (not the cost per session) increases depending on the best course of treatment determined for each individual patient. And while I have been told that some people have been successful in getting insurance coverage for ketamine treatment across the US, at Field Trip Health, they don't have a way to accept all insurances yet. I spoke with their cofounder Ronan Levy about the possibility of getting insurance coverage for ketamine therapy in the future and he told BuzzFeed, "We are speaking with various employers about coverage and are working with the Employer Health Innovation Roundtable and Silicon Valley Employers Forum to help enable coverage. As of yet, though, there is not much in the way of coverage through benefits plans (save for reimbursement for the psychotherapy portions of the treatment)."

    Editor's note: I was provided Ketamine treatments for this story but they did not impact the outcome of this story in any way.

    Finally, it was time to begin my experience with ketamine therapy. Upon arriving for my first treatment, the first thing I noticed was the space, obviously! Generally speaking, the Field Trip Health offices are...well, stunning.

    An image of the Field Trip Health offices in Santa Monica, California
    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    There were many, many areas with comfortable pillows and throws that you could really picture yourself getting lost in. I give the overall vibe a 10/10.

    Also, upon entering the office, you take your shoes off! This isn't like crucial information but more so a reminder to wear fun and comfortable socks for your experience. Highly recommend good socks.

    An image of the author's shoeless feet as she stands in front of the entrance to Field Trip Health
    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    Session #1 — Going into my first session, I was incredibly nervous. I mean, I think that's a pretty normal reaction to getting ready to trip on ketamine for your first time. But the thing is, because I live with chronic pain, my main source of concern was that I was going to take my baseline-level pain and somehow make everything worse.

    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    I arrived for my first session right at 2 p.m., after fasting for at least 4 hours. I also made sure not to consume cannabis for at least 24 hours prior to my session, based on my therapist's orders. After consulting with the medical staff at Field Trip, we agreed to start with a relatively low dose for my first session, with the option of a booster midway through. Before you begin, the staff at Field Trip checks all your vitals and sets you up in a private room with an eye mask, headphones, and a specialized playlist. They also have weighted blankets, which I did use and loved. However, about 20 minutes into my first session, I discarded the headphones and eye mask because I didn't like the way they felt on my head. Everyone has their preferences!

    I began with a dose of 25 milligrams and it was administered via injection in my arm. TBH, it felt exactly like getting a vaccine. Within five minutes, I was no longer in the room. I mean, physically I was, of course, but mentally I was absolutely no longer in my body. And this may not be the norm! The staff actually did inform me that having a full trip with just 25 milligrams isn't the norm so I guess I got lucky. Because of this, I did NOT choose to receive a booster during this session. And while it's tricky to remember the exact details of each trip, the next-day sessions and notebooks I kept definitely helped. What I remember most about this trip was the feeling of soaring through the universe. Everything was vibrant and beautiful. In my mind, I was gliding around a world that looked very similar to Lake Tahoe but more majestic somehow. During my trip, a lot of things popped into my mind. I thought of an uncle I lost to suicide, of times in the past that doctors had doubted my pain or hadn't believed me, and I distinctly remember tears flowing from my eyes. But they weren't accompanied by a deep sadness like they usually are. It was more of a release, as if the tears were destined to fall and I was simply allowing them to do so. The trip itself lasted a little over an hour but I was at the clinic from 2 to 5 p.m. After coming out of the trip, it did take me a bit to reorient myself to the world so having a nice quiet and comfortable room to myself helped a lot.

    One thing I really appreciated about pursuing ketamine treatment in a clinic like Field Trip was that my therapist sat with me the whole time. I knew that no matter what happened or what may come up, I was not alone and I was being monitored — both by my therapist in the room with me and via machines monitoring my heart rate and blood pressure. In fact, with my therapist's permission and approval upfront, we decided that if and when I needed to, I could ask for him to gently hold my hand to remind me that I was not alone and that I was safe. I asked for this during most of my sessions and I personally found it very comforting.

    As you can see in the picture above, I sat in the white chair for my first session but this was the only session I would complete sitting up. Personally, I highly recommend lying down during your session, especially if you may be prone to dizziness and nausea like I am. The one thing I noticed about ketamine therapy right away was just how nauseous it made me after coming out of the trip. The staff at Field Trip prescribed me Zofran — a medication for nausea — which helped take the edge off a bit. But nausea was one of my biggest symptoms throughout the treatment. It feels important to note, however, that not everyone experiences nausea. I am prone to nausea pretty much every day of my life so it wasn't a surprise to me that ketamine seemed to make that nausea show up even more.

    After each session, they bring you snacks and hot tea! Unfortunately, I could never actually eat because, like I mentioned above, I experienced pretty intense nausea posttreatment despite always taking a Zofran 30 or so minutes prior.

    An image from the author of a plate of snacks in the ketamine treatment room
    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    Again, like I said, I am generally prone to nausea — it's one of the most common symptoms I experience from my endometriosis — so it might not even impact you! But even so, I was taken aback by just how nauseous the ketamine therapy made me. Ultimately, the only thing that really took the edge off the nausea I was experiencing was some cannabis once I got home from treatments. I actually did throw up after my first session because my boyfriend sent me a picture of a breakfast burrito with a donut inside of it to show me what he found for lunch and I, being the unsuspecting girlfriend who just got done tripping on ketamine, wasn't expecting it to disgust me quite that much. But we live and we learn. 

    Another symptom I experienced after ketamine sessions was constipation. Listen. No one wants to talk about being constipated, but no one told me this could happen so I am telling you. I bought Miralax and survived. I usually felt "normal" again within 48 hours. But you've been warned that this is a possibility!

    The author's hand holding Miralax
    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    Taking the prescription Zofran for my nausea probably contributed to this, too, just to be clear.

    Session #2 — I went deeper and in doing so, I was able to escape the body that has caused me so much pain.

    Lara Parker

    For my second session, I laid down on the bed seen above. It was such a better experience overall. I felt like I was less dizzy and somehow felt more grounded. I also chose to not wear the headphones and instead asked if we could play the specialized soundtrack through speakers. All of this made this experience much more pleasant for me and honestly, this session was probably the most meaningful and powerful session I've had to date. During this session, I had the initial 25 milligram dose but chose to get an additional 15 milligram booster after 15 minutes. I once again left the room — mentally — and I was once again immersed in a beautiful world that resembled the one I've come to know during my time on earth but was somehow different. More vibrant, more beautiful. But this time, I distinctly remember feeling a freeing sensation as I left my physical body. I live with daily chronic pain. I fantasize about leaving my physical body to escape the discomfort quite often and during this ketamine session...I actually was able to do that.

    I was conscious of the fact that I was choosing to leave the painful, heavy body filled with discomfort behind. I knew that this body was still in the room at Field Trip in Santa Monica but I also knew, somehow, that my consciousness was not. And this did not scare me. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was exhilarated. I felt free. I knew, somewhere deep down, that I would have to return to my physical body at some point but I also had the knowledge somewhere in my brain that it was going to be OK to do so. And that in the meantime, it was OK to enjoy being free. It was a feeling of euphoria that I have never experienced before and I wonder if I ever will experience it in the same way again. It was powerful. Even now, it's difficult to articulate just what this experience was like for me. There was an understanding in my mind that I was always going to have to "come back to the pain," if you will. But the knowledge that it was going to be OK — and that I was going to be OK — was just as present in my mind.

    I think, above all else, that this is what ketamine therapy has given me: a different perspective. The belief and the knowledge that there are different ways to experience life and to see things in my mind. That with psychedelics, the impossible suddenly seems possible. And that with these types of treatments on the horizon, there is a sense of hope at what may be possible and yet to come.

    Session #3 — It really is so important to be in the right mindset going into your sessions, if possible, and I learned that on this day.

    Lara Parker, Cole Burston / AFP via Getty Images

    If you've ever studied psychedelics or read up on the best way to utilize them, you know that setting and intention are so important. It's crucial to make yourself comfortable and know that you are in a setting and in a mindset that feel safe and comfortable and allow you to go deeper without feeling fear or resistance to whatever may come up. I tried to embody this mindset going into each treatment and remind myself that there is no "bad trip," and that each trip is there to teach you something — whether it be pleasant or uncomfortable — and that fighting against something uncomfortable wouldn't make it stop, but would only prolong the "bad trip," if you will. While this is easy to type now, if you've ever experienced a semblance of a bad trip, you know that it's easier said than done.

    I bring all of this up because during my third ketamine treatment, I was reminded that it really is so important to ready your mind prior to these treatments as best you can. For me, it meant that I should have listened and avoided negative news. Unfortunately, however, I live in America. Prior to this session, I found out that abortion access was limited even moreso than it had been before and that the right to make a decision about your own body was no longer a reality in this country. While this news isn't surprising to anyone who has paid attention, it is understandably upsetting. I knew that I should have tried to limit my consumption of news around this topic prior to going into my session, but I ignored those instincts and consumed and consumed right before my session and right after. To say that this had an effect on my overall session that day would be accurate. It was as if my mind and body were in a game of tug of war: my mind wanted to go deeper, but my body was resisting every step of the way and stuck in a negative news cycle loop. I was aware that I was "tripping," so to speak, but also aware that I had a body in the treatment room, and I felt stuck somewhere between the two worlds. Not quite ready to trip, but not quite physically in the room either. It is an obvious privilege to be able to avoid "negative" news, but if you CAN do so prior and after your ketamine treatments, I highly recommend.

    While this session didn't allow me to go as deep as I wanted because I was stuck halfway in and out of consciousness with too much on my mind, it was a good practice in attempting to work with my mind to center myself as best I could and let myself go with the flow instead of fighting against it — something that I think I will no doubt have to implement in my life in the future, bad trip or not.

    Like I mentioned above, consuming heavy news stories about the reality of life in America was not the best idea. But it's also not something everyone can avoid, and I am lucky to be able to even attempt to do so. The staff at Field Trip told me repeatedly to try and avoid the news/heavy stories, and I should have listened! Because wow, did I feel bleak. Perhaps if our elected officials did their jobs, I would have felt less so.

    my ketamine therapist was like "don't look at the news if you can, everything is going to be 100x heightened, you might have trouble handling" so i spent my entire morning on twitter like the dumbass that i am

    @laraeparker / Via Twitter: @laraeparker

    Session #4 — I took my highest dose yet, went deeper than I had before, and made the decision that this is where I wanted to stop...for now.

    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    During the third and fourth treatment, I ended up taking a week and a half off in between. It was important for me to do this because 1) ketamine treatments were definitely taking a physical toll on my body, and while it was definitely manageable, it was harder to manage while working full-time, and 2) I wanted to process how I was feeling about the experience as a whole and see if there were any areas I needed to lean into more or explore. In doing so, I realized a few things. First, while the experience was illuminating to me in more ways than one, it was also physically harder on my body than I had prepared for. And second, I felt that the fourth session was where I wanted to end this experience...for now.

    While I do think ketamine treatments were undoubtedly illuminating for me in more ways than one, I do not consider them a cure for my depression. And maybe you're thinking, "Well, you didn't even finish all the treatments," to which I would say: you're right! But if I've learned anything in the last decade or so, it's that listening to your body is one of the most important things you can do. And during this process, I do believe it cemented this lesson even more for me. My body told me I needed to take a pause. So I did.

    While I don't consider the treatments a cure — meaning I no longer suffer from depression in any form — I do think they helped. And I feel more hopeful about things in general after completing four sessions. No, it wasn't a cure. But it showed me that there are all kinds of treatments and that if and when things become more accessible in the psychedelic space, it could be life-changing for many. I don't regret my sessions at all. And, in fact, I DID notice that my moods were lighter. But I had bouts of depression after, and I am sure I will continue to for the time being. I don't see this as the treatments failing, however. I think it's simply that everyone responds to treatments differently, and while it may not have been the ultimate cure that I desire, it just goes to show that if this type of treatment (and others like it) were accessible to all, who KNOWS what kind of beautiful results we could get.

    So there you have it. I completed four full sessions of ketamine therapy, and while it didn't completely cure my depression, I leave this experience feeling more hopeful about the future treatments for depression and related conditions than I have, well, maybe ever. Before we end, here are some things I think are worth knowing about my experience with ketamine therapy:

    An image of the author holding a Crunchwrap Supreme from Taco Bell
    Lara Parker for BuzzFeed

    1. For some reason, the only thing I could stomach after ketamine and some cannabis was Taco Bell. I recommend the Crunchwrap Supreme (seen above) with no meat, sub refried beans, no sour cream or cheese, add avocado ranch sauce, and guacamole. 

    2. In my experience, I did not feel up to working after, even with a morning session. So if possible, try to schedule on a day off or take the day so you have a chance to recover. I was nauseous, slightly dizzy, and disoriented somewhat for several hours after.

    3. If you have access to ketamine therapy and discuss the treatments with your doctor(s) and decide it is the right treatment for you, I do recommend the experience overall. It was illuminating in more ways than one. 

    4. In my experience, the actual ketamine trips usually lasted around an hour or just over. It would then take around 30 minutes or so for me to feel more present in the room/less disoriented. I could absolutely not have driven myself home. Setting up a ride to and from the sessions is crucial. 

    5. While I did generally feel less depressed after my treatments, it wasn't right away. Sometimes, I actually felt slightly worse — emotionally speaking — the day after. This usually evened out within 24 hours, but was made worse if I consumed too much news. 

    6. I did experience some of what is referred to as "rebound pain," which is that my endometriosis-related pain did become slightly more intense in the 24–48 hours post treatment. All in all, though, I've had worse and I personally didn't find it to be anything that I could not deal with using my form of medicine, which is cannabis. 

    7. I would definitely pursue ketamine therapy again in the future, but I think I would want to do it in a similar setting. 

    8. I went into this experience thinking it might actually completely change my brain. And in some ways, it did. In other ways it didn't. And ultimately, even if this wasn't the complete and total cure I was looking for, I do think it could be for some people. I think everyone who is a good candidate for this type of treatment should have access. Here's hoping we see that in our lifetime.