Something once thought of as a LA elite-only psychedelic therapy has made its way into mainstream psychotherapy and now the workplace. Ketamine’s trance-induced effects—used in conjunction with psychotherapy—is the only legal psychedelic medicine available to treat mental health conditions. In the last several years, the drug has been administered intravenously and found to be safe for office and supervised at-home therapy. Known as Ketamine-assisted therapy (KAT), the approach has become more widely popular in the United States as an alternative to traditional antidepressants, and people report that it has changed their lives.
Groundbreaking Research On Ketamine Therapy
Scientists at Case Western Reserve University recently report that Ketamine is an effective pharmacological to treating cocaine addiction, which leads to roughly one of every five drug overdose deaths in the United States. The study, published in a recent issue of the journal Addiction, combined artificial intelligence (AI), human intelligence, clinical testing and computer analysis. Participants with cocaine use disorder who were administered Ketamine for depression or pain experienced a two-to-four times higher remission rate.
“Ketamine, a small synthetic organic molecule used clinically as an anesthetic and a depression treatment, was found to be associated with significant improvement in remission among people with cocaine-use disorders,” says one of the study’s authors Rong Xu, professor of biomedical informatics and founding director of the Center for AI in Drug Discovery at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. Coauthor Pamela Davis, the Arline and Curtis Garvin Research Professor at the School of Medicine, says, “This study is a great example of addressing an intractable problem by the creative use of AI using different sources of data,” adding, “It is our hope that this approach will suggest therapeutic approaches for other difficult problems.”
The largest-ever study of Ketamine therapy, published last October, included 1,247 participants and revealed that KAT is effective for decreasing depression and anxiety. Here are the key findings:
- 89% of the participants reported improvement in their depression or anxiety symptoms, and 63% of participants experienced a greater than 50% reduction.
- 30% achieved remission(or virtually no symptoms) after four sessions for both depression and anxiety.
- 62% of participants who reported suicidal ideation at baseline no longer reported any suicidal ideation after four sessions.
- Depression response rates were significantly higher than those seen in studies of traditional treatments, such as antidepressants, talk therapy and also higher thanthose reported for IV Ketamine.
Ketamine Therapy In The Workplace
The drug has gotten so popular as a mental health treatment that workplaces have started listening—and offering the drug as an employee benefit. It’s an unconventional solution to an all-too-conventional problem, and savvy workplaces are beginning to understand that mental healthcare isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach—especially when employer mental health support is now a main factor when considering a new job.
It was announced last year (and rolled out this year) that 15Five is the first and only company in the tech industry to offer KAT as a direct benefit to employees via Mindbloom. The tech industry, notorious for its stressful work environment, is getting hit especially hard with layoffs—undoubtedly adding to the mental health crisis tech employees are experiencing. Popular soap company Dr. Bronner’s expanded its mental health benefits last year to include assistance from Enthea in finding KAT providers and then covering the costs of treatment for employees. CBD hemp products startup Hemplucid announced last year they would provide access to KAT to any employee with a mental health diagnosis through a partnership with Numinus Wellness.
I spoke with 15Five co-founder Shane Metcalf to find out where this drug is headed and its potential impact on how we view mental health overall. I asked Metcalf to describe what’s out there in terms of KAT and who’s offering it. “There are a significant number of options,” he said. “Our findings suggest that Ketamine-assisted therapy is an effective method for decreasing depression and anxiety in a private practice setting, especially for older patients and those with severe symptom burden. The most well-known are (1) in-person clinics where Ketamine is administered intravenously throughout the country and (2) telehealth providers, where prescriptions are shipped to your door and therapists provide some amount of care or facilitation. We chose Mindbloom, which offered at home care at a significantly lower price. Research actually indicates that there are better results with these at home providers, like Mindbloom, than with the in-clinic model.”
When asked if people will begin to seek out employers that cover unconventional treatments, Metcalf responded in the affirmative. “Mental and emotional well-being benefits are becoming table stakes. Ten years ago, providing employees with access to coaching or therapy through third-party providers would have been seen as very progressive,” he says. “Today those benefits are coming to be seen as expected for human-centered organizations. And Covid accelerated this awareness around mental and emotional well-being, especially as it relates to productivity and achieving company goals. There has been an explosion of innovative mental health benefits providers, but when you look at the data, the effectiveness of meditation apps and talk therapy is limited compared to the results we’re seeing with Ketamine therapy.”
Asked if the stigma around discussing mental health—especially in the workplace—is declining, he insists that it absolutely is. “It’s now becoming odd to not discuss mental health. We have more work to do around this, but just in the last three years the conversation has become normalized. Look at the number of companies that offer mental health days and mental health resource groups. Founders and executives are also openly discussing their own struggles with the company and externally. This is creating a fast-track to mental health becoming a more normalized conversation.” As for getting over the stigma, Metcalf insists that a fast track to mental health is one of the keys to building a high-performance organization, because mental health is linked to performance. “Our organizations cannot achieve higher performance and engagement if we don’t support the mental and emotional thriving of their people.”
I asked him if we will see a rise in more alternative therapy offerings this year as employers begin to acknowledge stress and burnout. “Unfortunately, I don’t think so,” he says. “Many companies are going to be cutting back on mental health benefits and learning and development spending in this economic environment. There’s a squeeze happening on company budgets, and they are evaluating which employee programs to cancel or pause. While the sweet spot is to find a program like Ketamine therapy that is evidence-based, highly effective and extremely inexpensive, it’s still a relatively new benefit. There may not yet be enough awareness around the affordability and efficacy of these offerings,” he concluded.