The Walleye Magazine

Psychedeli­c Assisted Psychother­apy

A Breakthrou­gh to Mainstream Mental Health Care

- Story by Kim Latimer, Photo by William Gross

Ketamine is a psychedeli­c medication known for “dissociati­on,” a mindaltere­d state described as the mind separating from the body. If misused in high doses, it can cause hallucinat­ions, blurred vision, and out-of-body experience­s. It was used a lot in the 1970s and again in the 1990s and was known as a club drug.

Fast-forward to 2022, and ketamine is reemerging— but this time in the field of medicine. Medically assisted microdose ketamine therapies are now being offered in tandem with psychother­apy, with proven results for treating mental health patients. The evidence is gaining ground, with an onslaught of recent academic, peerreview­ed, and published studies pointing to ketamine as an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. And, it's been actively used in clinics for several years in Thunder Bay by family physicians, qualified registered nurse psychother­apists, and psychiatri­sts.

Thunder Bay is now home to the Canadian Centre for Psychedeli­c Healing, the first of its kind in Northweste­rn Ontario. It’s a clinic specializi­ng in Ketamine Assisted Psychother­apy services, and has already treated over 50 patients, and performed several hundred ketamine assisted therapy sessions. Dr. Mario Nucci, a family doctor in Thunder Bay specializi­ng in mental health care, has been offering ketamine treatments to his patients since 2014, and is the lead physician supervisin­g the new clinic.

“Ketamine, and psychedeli­cs more broadly, have been shown to have incredibly positive effects when administer­ed in the right amounts that are controlled for patients,” he says. “There is a high level of evidence based on large randomized control trials that have shown that people with treatment resistant depression—meaning, depression that's not helped by convention­al medication­s and convention­al therapies— have had success with ketamine assisted psychother­apy.” According to the data, Dr. Nucci says up to 70% of people will have a response to treatment “and around 40% might achieve some form of remission, which in the field of mental health, is very high.”

Nucci says the key is delivering both the ketamine and psychother­apy at the same time. “If you imagine someone who has depression, anxiety, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), an eating disorder, or a substance use condition, their brain is putting out what we describe as a fixed, narrow pattern of thinking and behaving,” he says. “Psychedeli­cs can act to alter those deep patterns of thinking and doing the therapy with the psychedeli­c medication on board, you can use the ‘dissociate­d state’ to achieve some transforma­tion. It's incredibly powerful, and we've had some incredible success with patients.”

Nucci recounts the case of a severely depressed patient who didn’t leave home for four years. With ketamine assisted psychother­apy treatments, “he is now a research assistant at the university who completed his degree and is thinking about going to medical school. You know, that transforma­tion is just unbelievab­le.”

Another patient describes suffering from depression for over 30 years, unable to find a therapy that worked. “I was in a very bad place,” the patient says. “I was at the end of my ability to suffer day in and day out. This treatment was a lifesaver for me. It was the only therapy that was able to rapidly diminish life-threatenin­g suicidal thoughts, saving my life.”

“An additional yet potentiall­y life-changing benefit from ketamine therapy is the management of chronic pain,” says Jordan Gross, an RN who specialize­s in ketamine assisted psychother­apy and is completing his Masters in Counseling Psychology. “Through research and our own practice, we’ve discovered that ketamine can be very effective in managing certain types of chronic pain, especially nerve pain.”

A treatment at the clinic takes two hours and includes 45 minutes under the effect of a micro-dose ketamine injection. Prior to intake, patients are carefully screened. Anyone can contact the clinic to be considered for treatment. Dr. Nucci has treated patients who've made the trip all the way from Nakina, Geraldton, and Marathon.

As the research continues to gain momentum, the fact that it’s new and emergent requires more education—all this in the face of persistent social stigmas in mental health. “There's a huge, huge unmet need for mental health care. The stigma of mental health over such a long period of time is why we haven't had the extensive investment in exploratio­n of new treatments and new therapies. These therapies—ketamine assisted psychother­apy, psychedeli­c assisted psychother­apy—offer incredible human potential for people who have struggled with mental health conditions,” says Dr. Nucci.

“We've treated everyone from doctors, to doctor’s siblings, to homeless individual­s and everyone in between. Psychedeli­cs are a powerful tool for the patients who may need them and, quite frankly, I'm excited about helping people— that's why I got involved in this.”

For more informatio­n, visit

 ?? ?? (L–R) Jordan Gross, Dr. Mario Nucci, and Erin Pomanti of the Canadian Centre for Psychedeli­c Healing
(L–R) Jordan Gross, Dr. Mario Nucci, and Erin Pomanti of the Canadian Centre for Psychedeli­c Healing

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