What used to be illegal party drugs, then LA elite-only psychedelic therapies, are making their way into the research lab, mainstream medicine and now the workplace. A study in last month’s Journal of the American Medical Association reported that after researchers administered the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, in a single-dose, randomized clinical trial, it resulted in a significant reduction in depression among the participants. And there’s more. A burgeoning body of research shows that the trance-induced effects of the psychedelic, ketamine—used in conjunction with psychotherapy—has significant mental health benefits.
In Ketamine-assisted therapy (KAT), the medicine is administered intravenously and found to be safe for in-office and supervised at-home therapy. Studies show that it is effective in treating cocaine-use disorders, pain and moderate to severe anxiety and depression. After four sessions of KAT, one study found that 95% of participants reported no side-effects, 89% had reductions in anxiety and depression and 30% no longer had any symptoms at all. Compared to studies of traditional therapies, KAT produced greater reductions in anxiety and depression than talk therapy and 34% greater than antidepressants. The KAT approach has become a widely popular alternative to traditional antidepressants. Many people, like ABC New’s chief national correspondent, Matt Gutman and myself included, report that it has made a difference.
ABC’s Matt Gutman Shares His KAT Experience
After my own series of KAT treatments, I read about Matt Gutman’s on-air panic attacks and his subsequent ketamine therapy and wanted to compare notes on how the medicine impacted his anxiety. I spoke with Gutman this week by Zoom as he made his way to cover the Burning Man disaster. Between signal interruptions in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, we talked about his new book, No Time for Panic: How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered a Lifetime of Panic Attacks, in which he describes lifelong panic attacks since his teenage years. He said he had his biggest “knock your socks off, wet your pants” panic attack defending his senior thesis in his senior year of college but didn’t know what it was. When he went into radio, reporting live from the Middle East, his bouts with nerves returned again. “Words would disappear from the page flapping in my hand as I read copy into the microphone,” he told me. Later, working in TV, he described his heart pounding, arm pits sweating and vision narrowing. “But people said I really punched through on television, that I had this energy. The energy, though, was me having panic attacks—not all of the time but a lot of the time.”
According to Gutman, it wasn’t until his mid-thirties that he was able to figure out what it was. Then he spent a few years trying to deal with it, getting his brain to click into gear and remember what he was going to say, and that gave him energy. But in 2020 at age 43, covering Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash, he slipped up—incorrectly reporting that all four of Bryant’s children had perished in the crash when only Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna was on board. “I said the wrong thing and made a cataclysmic mistake on air live and got suspended for a month,” he told me. “The subconscious part of it was that my dad was killed in a plane crash when I was the age of Gianna, and my dad was exactly Kobe’s age. This was in my brain as I went on air. I knew I had to take care of it (the panic attacks).” He decided he would either fix the panic or quit TV. “I didn’t want that loss of control, and I spent three-and-a-half years trying to figure it out. The first couple of years was about pharmacology—Benzos, antidepressants, Gabas and stimulants for my ADHD—and it didn’t work.”
But it was psychedelics—mushrooms, ayahuasca and ketamine—that offered what he calls “a bullet train to his well of grief.” Ketamine was the most legal and most profound, he discovered. “I got deepest into it than any of the other medicines from intramuscular doses—not IV’s, lozenges or nose sprays. I just wanted to get to the bottom of my grief, which I feared to be so dark and so deep I’d never be able to claw my way out. It was meant to be a general wellness measure. Having a psychedelic experience, coupled with integration afterwards, is the most long-lasting and meaningful way to do it.”
When I asked how he’s doing today, he confessed that he can’t say he’ll never have another panic attack again, acknowledging that’s how he’s engineered. “The conquering part is more about finding a way to come to terms with the war in my head and surviving the drill sergeant constantly telling me that I’m a failure, I’m bad or I’m screwing up,” he explained. “It’s more about being more gentle and loving with yourself and going into the dark places I feared going, but also being able to forgive myself in a way I never thought possible before.”
Ketamine Therapy, A New Benefit In The Workplace
Perhaps the best news of all is that Gutman has curbed his anxiety and didn’t have to quit TV. During our interview, as he and his producer rolled into Burning Man territory, I was heartened to hear him wowed at the epic traffic jam as thousands of stranded people tried to get out. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Have you, Conner?” he asked his producer.
I have treated many clients like Gutman, who suffer from anxiety and depression and work-induced stress—sometimes so debilitating they have difficulty functioning on the job. I started reading about KAT clinics popping up across the U.S., and then more recently clients began requesting the therapy. After gleaning KAT’s effectiveness from the science-backed research, I decided to take the plunge and arm myself with more experiential knowledge before recommending it to clients. In my own KAT treatments, I noticed a decline in anxiety in social situations and public speaking. I’m more mindful, more drawn and less driven. I’m learning to let go more, enjoy the simplest things and live life more fully in the present moment.
Coming Soon To An HR Department Near You
Gutman and I are not alone in our positive experiences, and the workplace is listening. In 2023, KAT has gotten so popular that savvy workplaces like 15Five offer the mental health treatment as an employee benefit, replacing perks like gym memberships and stocked fridges. Employers 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. Dr. Bronner’s soap company expanded its mental health benefits last year to cover the costs of treatment for employees. CBD hemp products startup Hemplucid also announced last year that they would provide access to KAT to any employee with a mental health diagnosis. Some experts believe these companies are pioneers in providing new and innovative approaches to workplace mental health. A KAT benefit could be coming soon to an HR department where you work. It’s essential that employers considering this benefit find a program that’s safe, evidence-based and highly effective.