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Upcoming Events and Content in Honor of Veteran’s Days


Upcoming Events and Content in Honor of Veteran's Day

October 28, 2022

During the week of Veterans Day, Heading Health will be hosting events and publishing articles to honor our military veterans. We will be taking a close look at the mental health issues veterans face, highlighting providers who specialize in treating veterans and gathering insights from their experience, as well as discussing the therapeutic potential of psychedelics as treatments for service-induced mental health conditions.

 

Check out the details of these events and others in the Austin area below.

 

Heading Health Speaker Series: What Now? How Veterans Can Overcome Post-Deployment Hurdles to Happiness

Teressa Carter – LCSW

In the Heading Health Speaker Series events, we highlight perspectives from our team of mental health professionals to learn from their unique backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints.

Femi Olukaya – LPC

 

In our Veteran’s Day edition, nutritional therapist Sally Twellman will interview Femi Olukaya, a therapist and military veteran, and Teressa Carter, a social worker with experience serving and treating active duty service members. They will explore the difficulties veterans face when integrating back into civilian and family life, the problems this can cause, and what we can do to soften the landing and ease their transitions back home. 

 

This event will be recorded and available to stream on YouTube. Stay tuned for more details.

 

Articles

Provider’s Perspective: Why Veterans Struggle to Seek Mental Health Care and What to Do About It

Despite the prevalence of mental health issues among veterans, many struggle to seek out help. In this article, Teressa Carter, will take a deep dive into this problem, offer suggestions for veterans and active military members unsure of whether or how to seek care, and provide advice for clinicians to help them perform patient outreach and build rapport with military clients. 

 

Ketamine for PTSD

Estimates suggest that 10-20 percent of veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety caused by exposure to a terrifying event. Recent research shows that ketamine may help veterans recover from this debilitating illness. This post will summarize the research, highlight key findings, and explore what this means for future treatments for PTSD.

 

Other Events in the Austin Area

The Rebirth: A Veterans Day Celebration Exploring Psychedelic Medicine

This three-part event will highlight the healing power of psychedelics for veterans. Specifically, it will include:

 

  1. A showing of the documentary film From Shock to Awe, which covers the lives of U.S. military combat veterans and highlights the transformational impact psychedelics have had on their mental health
  2. An expert panel which will discuss the importance of psychedelics and the urgent need to increase accessibility to these alternative treatments.
  3. A chance to hang out, listen to music, and catch up with friends at famed music club, Antonne’s

 

This event will take place on Friday, November 11, from 3:00 PM – 11:00 PM CST.

 

Get your tickets here.

 

 

The Mission Within: Psychedelics & Healing the Wounds of War

Founded by Dr. Martin Polanco, The Mission Within offers psychedelics such as ibogaine, 5-MeO-DMT, and psilocybin to treat veterans with traumatic brain injury (mTBI), PTSD, depression, and addiction as a result of experiences during military service.

 

In this panel, you’ll hear from veterans who participated in The Mission Within and how psychedelics helped them overcome service-related trauma and heal their relationships with loved ones.

 

This event will take place on November 3, from 6:45 PM – 8:30 PM CST.

 

RSVP here.

 

 

 

If you feel you need to see a mental health professional or could use help deciding which service is right for you, please give us a call at 805-204-2502 or fill out an appointment request here. We have a wide variety of providers, including therapists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and nutritional therapists who can see you in as little as one day via teletherapy.  

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Is Ketamine a Psychedelic? Does it Matter?


Is Ketamine a Psychedelic? Does it Matter?

October 21, 2022

Over the past few years, psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms have garnered much attention as researchers explore their potential use in treating mental health conditions.   

 

Ketamine and its close cousin Spravato (esketamine) are often included in this motley crew of psychedelics due in part to their “mind-altering” effects.  

 

Though many are eager to label ketamine a psychedelic, others are less certain, feeling it would be most appropriate to avoid associating ketamine with psychedelics.  Let’s explore these different viewpoints to get a clearer sense of whether ketamine is genuinely a psychedelic and why the label matters, if it does at all.  

What is a Psychedelic? 

One obvious way of determining whether ketamine is a psychedelic is by comparing its features to those listed in its definition. Unfortunately, there are no agreed-upon criteria for what makes something a psychedelic drug. Experts waver on the importance of three conditions.

#1: Psychedelics Cause Altered States of Consciousness

Though there is much disagreement about what counts as a psychedelic, it’s generally accepted that they must induce specific mind-altering effects. Some argue this is all that is required. In other words, they claim that as long as the substance causes a “psychedelic experience,” then it’s a psychedelic.  

 

But what are psychedelic experiences? While the list is potentially endless, psychedelic experiences are generally thought to impact one’s perception of themselves and the world around them, alter the way they think and reason, and provide insights into how their mind works and the nature of reality. They include experiences like the sense of being at one with the world, distortions of space and time, profound inner peace, ego dissolution, and many more.  

#2: Their Conscious Effects Must Have Therapeutic Benefits

While many agree that psychedelics must cause certain altered states of consciousness, some argue that this isn’t enough. They claim that these changes in thought and perception must have a therapeutic effect on the mind or promote psychological growth. As Dr. Yehuda, director of the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, notes when discussing ketamine’s status as a psychedelic:

 

The unanswered question in all of this is whether the transpersonal state is what heals you or whether it’s something about the molecule. […] The dissociation or psychoactive effects of ketamine might be incidental. They occur. But that’s not necessarily why the healing is happening.

 

For these experts, if ketamine’s mind-altering effects have nothing to do with its mental health benefits, then it’s not a psychedelic. 

#3: Psychedelics Must Act on Specific Areas in the Brain

In the world of psychedelics, some have been around for longer than others and are more well-studied. For example, mescaline and psilocybin mushrooms have been used since ancient times and were researched heavily in the 1950s and ‘60s. These compounds all appear to affect serotonin (a chemical messenger in the brain) at the “2A” receptor. 

 

Some researchers feel these “classical psychedelics” are the only true ones, and that what really matters when deciding whether to categorize a new agent as a psychedelic is how it works in the brain. As Dr. Yehuda notes:

 

When we talk about chemistry and drug development, we should mostly be defining a psychedelic drug on the basis of the chemistry of the molecule, its pharmacokinetics, and its mechanism of action. 

Does Ketamine Meet These Conditions?

How does ketamine stack up against these criteria? As far as its effects on the brain go, ketamine does not act as the classical psychedelics do. It works on N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, causing an increase of glutamate and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) instead of serotonin.  Under this condition, then, ketamine is not a psychedelic. 

Credit: Yang H. Ku/C&EN

 

However, acting on a specific set of serotonin receptors is not the only way to produce psychedelic experiences. As Dr. Steve Levine, co-founder of Heading Health states:

 

It does appear that subjective psychedelic effects may be induced by a number of stimuli or conditions that also include sensory deprivation, virtual reality, meditation, and suggestibility, among others, and not necessarily mediated through a particular brain receptor.

 

Importantly, many of these psychedelic experiences can be produced by ketamine. It is most commonly associated with dissociative experiences (i.e., the sense that one is separate from their thoughts and body). It can also cause distortions in one’s perception of space and time. Patients have also reported gaining new perspectives and an enhanced ability to make sense of their thoughts. Rarely, ketamine can cause delusions and delirium, otherwise known as psychotomimetic effects. In many ways, then, ketamine seems to have the right sorts of effects on the mind to be considered a psychedelic. 

 

However, it’s worth highlighting that the experiences won’t be identical to “classical psychedelics.” For example, psilocybin appears more likely to cause what’s known as ego dissolution, where one loses their subjective sense of self. Classical psychedelics may also have a greater tendency to induce visual distortions. In general, because they have different effects on the brain, their conscious effects will differ. As Dr. Arif Noorbaksh, Psychiatrist at Heading, states:

 

Ketamine is distinct because it works on a completely different neurotransmitter system (glutamate), exerts an effect in different areas of the brain, and as a result, the perceived effects are different.  They both result in non-ordinary states of consciousness, but the experience a particular person has when exposed to conventional psychedelics versus ketamine will be different.

 

When it comes to the therapeutic effects of the altered states of mind that ketamine puts subjects in, the evidence is mixed. A 2020 review concluded that overall, the evidence does not suggest that ketamine’s dissociative effects are responsible for its antidepressant properties. Others argue that ketamine’s ability to cause a shift in perspective and increase cognitive flexibility and open-mindedness are directly responsible for its therapeutic effects. For example, Celia Morgan, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, found in a recent experiment that individuals who underwent ketamine and talk therapy experienced longer-lasting antidepressant effects. Professor Morgan notes that talk therapy “requires that individuals think differently about things and learn new ways of thinking about old problems.” As a result, ketamine’s ability to induce shifts in perspective and open-mindedness may explain why it appears to enhance the effects of therapy alone. 


Where does this leave us? According to some criteria, ketamine seems to be a psychedelic, while on others, it does not. The answer as to whether ketamine is a psychedelic, then, depends on who you ask and which criteria they feel are most essential.

Does it Matter What We Call It?

Some might think this is all just semantics and that there’s no real principle we can use to determine what to call ketamine. 

 

While the dispute may be verbal, how we talk about ketamine matters. As Dr. Noorbaksh notes:

 

I think it matters insofar as the term “psychedelic” comes with preconceived notions for many people, and it also places the emphasis on the acute effects of the agent rather than the potentially longer-term effects these agents can have on neuroplasticity, relation to self and others, and other important contributors to mental health.

 

As a result, it’s important to be mindful of the language we use to describe and categorize ketamine and to avoid clinging to one label or another without regard for how this impacts patients. As Dr. Levine suggests:

 

Ultimately, whether a molecule is “truly” a psychedelic is likely beside the point. […] Let’s not let feeling precious about terminology distract from the real goal, which is improving well-being in a safe and responsible way.  

 

 

 

Talk with your doctor to determine whether this treatment is right for you, or you can schedule an appointment with someone from our team of psychiatrists or therapists to advise you on this or any other potential treatments for depression, including ketamine, Spravato, and TMS. Call us at 805-204-2502 or request an appointment here.

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What Does Spravato Feel Like? A Patient’s Perspective 


What's Does Spravato Feel Like? A Patient's Perspective

October 3, 2022

This post was written by a member of our content team who is currently receiving treatment using Spravato in Michigan. In the interest of transparency, he is not a patient of Heading. However, his treatment program and the experiences detailed in this post are very similar to those of patients at Heading.

 

I have suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my life. Treatment began at age 12 when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While the initial treatments helped to some degree, many symptoms remained, and the side effects of the drugs I took became intolerable. 

 

Over the next 17 years, I switched from one oral antidepressant to the next, desperately trying to find something that addressed my symptoms without causing side effects that were worse than what I was trying to treat. Eventually, my psychiatrist recommended a drug called Spravato (esketamine nasal spray), a rapid-acting drug used for treatment-resistant depression. He told me that Spravato works differently than traditional antidepressants by increasing levels of glutamate and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These two changes have been associated with improvements in depression and anxiety. Knowing this, I felt hopeful that I might get the benefits I was looking for without the drawbacks I was trying to avoid.

 

Though I was excited about trying out the new intervention, I grew increasingly anxious as I awaited my first treatment session. Both esketamine (the active ingredient in Spravato) and its more famous cousin, ketamine, are psychoactive, meaning they can alter one’s normal state of consciousness, affecting one’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. 

 

Before trying Spravato, I had very little experience with psychoactive drugs and none with anything that might be considered a psychedelic. As a result, I had no idea what to expect. To make matters worse, I felt that I wouldn’t react well to the experiences that Spravato might bring about because I suffered from severe anxiety. I went into my appointment blind to what I was about to experience. Though my fears were unwarranted, I would have benefited greatly from a clear and honest description of what was to come.  

 

My Experience with Spravato

Below I describe to the best of my ability what I typically feel during a Spravato treatment session. Though some of these experiences may generalize, it’s important to remember that everyone’s brain is unique and may react differently to Spravato.

 

Dissociation

One of the more talked about effects of Spravato is its ability to cause dissociation. Though it is described differently by different people, the effect is generally characterized as a temporary feeling of disconnection from one’s thoughts and feelings.

 

I like to describe my personal experiences with dissociation as akin to the sensation one gets when looking at their avatar through a virtual reality headset. Everything is in the location it’s supposed to be and moves when it should, but you don’t identify with your avatar. Its movements don’t feel like your movements. Its body doesn’t feel like your body.

 

The feeling of separation from my thoughts is harder to describe. The best I can say is that it feels like I am “viewing” my thoughts rather than “thinking” them. They simply pass by, unauthored by me.

 

Feeling of Relaxation

Despite having unusual sensations like the feeling of dissociation, I often experience a wave of relaxation as my concerns and worries drift away. My thoughts quiet down, and former troubles begin to feel like they don’t matter as much.

 

Feelings of Stress and Anxiety

Though Spravato can be pleasurable, it can also be unpleasant and stressful. I believe this is at least partially the result of the following two factors.

 

First, while under the effects of Spravato, my mind tends to focus on unpleasant thoughts at the core of many of my worries (more on this below). Though these thoughts are easier to entertain at the time, they can still be challenging to confront.

 

Second, aside from its psychological or psychoactive effects, Spravato causes physical sensations that tend to be more unpleasant. For example, I often get dizzy and feel like I am slowly spinning in my chair. As a result, I feel nauseous. When these sensations become too intense, the overall experience can become quite stressful. Fortunately, my doctor prescribed an antiemetic (i.e., an anti-nausea drug), so these sensations have become less frequent and more tolerable.

 

Increased Empathy

The state that Spravato puts me in makes it easier for me to put myself in other peoples’ shoes. Often, I will spend time thinking about past arguments or disagreements. While doing so, I have an easier time understanding where the other person was coming from and why their reactions and feelings were appropriate. More generally, I tend to have a stronger concern for the well-being of others.  

 

Enhanced Ability to Confront Unpleasant Thoughts

Through my Spravato experiences, I have realized that at the heart of many of my daily fears are more general worries that I have trouble recognizing or confronting. While under the effects of Spravato, my attention is almost unavoidably directed toward these fundamental concerns

 

Here’s a personal example to shed light on how this works. Among the many things I worry about, work is often at the top of the list. I worry while working on assignments, submitting them, waiting for feedback, etc. Though I had spent so much energy feeling anxious about this, I never looked at the underlying concern or belief that connected all these more specific worries. During one Spravato treatment, I realized that I had deep concerns about my intellectual abilities and that I viewed each work assignment as a potential instance where my real lack of capability would be revealed.

 

Though the fear remains, knowing it exists and is responsible for so many other specific worries has made it easier to deal with.

  

Visual Distortions

Around 10 minutes into each treatment, I start to notice some visual effects. First, my vision becomes fuzzy, and I have trouble refocusing each time I move my eyes. Over the next few minutes, this effect increases in intensity until everything looks as though it is shaking for a few seconds after I shift from looking at one spot to another.

 

Aside from becoming fuzzier and shakier, my vision tends to change in a different way. Specifically, objects appear to be slowly expanding and contracting as if they are breathing. Often, I’ll try to match my breath to the rate at which the things are “breathing.” It’s pretty relaxing.

 

When I close my eyes, I notice a further visual effect. As I keep them shut, I see faint geometric patterns. This is especially noticeable when my eyes are almost but not completely closed, which happens to me somewhat frequently when dozing off under Spravato. My guess is that my brain is doing its best to interpret the unusual visual stimuli it is getting, and the result is that I have some minor closed-eye visuals.

 

Post-Treatment Effects

Though many of the effects subside by the end of the two-hour treatment, some remain for several hours. I tend to feel tired, off-balance, and a bit groggy. These effects slowly dissipate as the day goes on but do not linger into the next day.

 

Concluding Thoughts

From enhanced empathy to feelings of dissociation, Spravato experiences can feel intense or overwhelming when you don’t know what to expect. After I learned first-hand what the experience feels like, my Spravato sessions became much more relaxing and pleasant. Hopefully, my descriptions will help other anxious patients get there more quickly.

 

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, where I describe the long-term effects of Spravato on my depression and anxiety.

 

If you feel you need to see a mental health professional or could use help deciding which service is right for you, please give us a call at 805-204-2502 or fill out an appointment request here. We have a wide variety of providers, including therapists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and nutritional therapists who can see you in as little as one day via teletherapy.  

Take the first step

Want to find out if Heading is right for you? 

Complete our consultation form and an intake specialist will get in touch.


Schedule your consultation