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'Brand new way to treat patients': Ketamine injections approved for Alberta's community facilities

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The regulatory body for Alberta doctors has recently updated its regulations allowing non-hospital treatment centres to administer Ketamine to treat serious depression and mental health conditions.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) now approves community facilities with in-house anesthesiologists and psychiatrists to offer the dissociative or sedative psychedelic via IV (intravenous).

The Ketatmine-assisted therapy can also be used to manage chronic pain disorders.

"I'm really excited to be on this new frontier, and a brand new way to treat patients," said Dr. Craig Pearce, president of anesthesia for the Alberta Medical Association, and medical director at SABI Mind, a private psychedelic therapy clinic.

Pearce said his best friend died by suicide 27 years ago, and says his work in his new role is driven by a desire to help others who may be experiencing extreme distress.

"If this is an opportunity for me to help rescue and save someone else who has that type of affliction or concern and improve their life, then I'm going to jump at it," said Pearce.

Andrea Daye says she's suffered with depression on and off since she was 16, and underwent Ketamine treatments from June to last August.

"I feel amazing today. Mental health is a journey that goes up and down and zig-zags, but the Ketamine really helped," she said.

Daye said she is no longer an intensive care unit nurse, after suffering from traumatic experiences in a Calgary area hospital during COVID-19 waves in 2021.

She says maintaining her mental health is ongoing, but the therapy helped her find her way out of a major depressive episode last May.

"It is a catalyst and an extremely effective catalyst, more effective than anything I have ever done before," said Daye.

Psychedelic therapy for mood disorders and chronic pain is an emerging field of study, as researchers hope to determine if controlled substances help "treatment-resistant" patients whose conditions don't show improvement with traditional pharmaceuticals or therapies.

"What is it that's really driving these effects? Is it the drugs that are being used or the context in which they're being given? That's what we're really interested in, is really distilling it down to what is the important ingredient that we need to look for," said Dr. Leah Mayo, Parker Psychedelics research chair at University of Calgary.

Mayo says government-funded research will help find answers to questions about the efficacy of psychedelics.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has launched a study through a federal grant to explore how Psilocybin (the chemical in “magic mushrooms") can treat depression and if the hallucinogenic or psychedelic effects are necessary.

"There's a lot that we still don't know about the use of psychedelic drugs and how they actually help people with mental health conditions," said Dr. Ishrat Husain, head of clinical trails at CAMH.

He added, "It may well be in fact that it is the hallucinogenic experience that sort of leads to access to repressed memories and opens up the brain to be more receptive to psychotherapy."

Husain said if the study demonstrates the ingredients can work even without inducing a psychedelic effect it would be easier to put into practise -- saving time, resources and costs.

He says a "trip" can range up to eight hours, and requires medical supervision.

The clinical trial includes 60 adult participants with treatment-resistant depression and will run over a three-year period.

For Dr. Mayo in Calgary, expanded science and research would help provide broader access to effective alternative treatments.

"The people who need these treatments right now, people with really severe mental health conditions might not be able to go to these Ketamine clinics that are available and pay the fees that are associated with it," said Mayo.

At the moment, Ketamine therapy is the only psychedelic approved and regulated in Canada for specific conditions.

There are no therapeutic products containing psilocybin, LSD, MDMA or DMT approved for sale in Canada outside of a clinical trial.

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