New Calgary psychedelic-assisted therapy clinic part of expanding industry, research

A new clinic in southwest Calgary is treating chronic pain and mental health struggles with ketamine injections among other holistic treatments and therapies.

The founders of SABI Mind in the Sunalta neighbourhood say ketamine therapy is just the start.

“We’ve already seen the trajectory and journey of cannabis go through a similar situation, and the psychedelic movement is on the precipice of becoming something larger, for mental health and chronic pain,” said Heesoo Cho, founder and managing director of SABI mind.

Cho created the concept for the clinic after a traumatic event sparked his own journey for mental wellness and exploring psychedelic therapy.

“For me it was quite transformative, the impact was immediate, it expedited a lot of the work for me.”

With a background in the hospitality industry, Cho hopes that many of the clients will also be from the sector that encounters mental health challenges yet often lacks supports.

The five treatment rooms have been designed to create a calming atmosphere and space for ketamine to be administered via needle, monitored by staff including doctors, psychologists and registered nurses.

Clients must get a physician’s referral, and a treatment package catered to either chronic pain or mental health begins at $1,500 for nine sessions.

SOME SESSIONS COVERED BY PUBLIC HEALTH

Insurance coverage varies but some sessions are covered by public health says Cho.

“By no means is this a panacea, it’s not a miracle drug, there is a process associated with it and what I think what we are trying to do here is tap into a potential to provide additional solutions to an existing system,” Cho said.

Natalie Alexander is curious about trying the treatment as an event planner who has witnessed mental health struggles among colleagues.

“It’s innovation. It’s nothing different than technology innovating or systems, its just mental health care, and I think it is something that is now taking the front stage,” Alexander said.

BURGEONING RESEARCH AREA, INDUSTRY

Psychedelic-assisted therapy is being researched while new clinics continue to open across Canada.

“Psychedelics are controlled under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), which means that activities such as sale, possession and production are illegal unless authorized by Health Canada. As they meet the definition of a drug, they are also regulated under the Food and Drugs Act,” said Charlaine Sleiman, Health Canada spokesperson, in a statement.

Specific uses of ketamine are approved and regulated by Health Canada, including as a general anaesthetic, however injections of ketamine are considered off-label and are not authorized by Health Canada.

According to Alberta Health, “physicians are able to use approved drugs off-label; it is a clinical decision. The use of ketamine is tracked by the Alberta Tracked Prescription Program (TPP) administered by the College of Physician and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA)”

Sleiman says Health Canada is aware of intravenous ketamine being used off-label across many clinics in Canada.

Local researchers say when used carefully, psychedelics such as ketamine offer excitement in the field that hasn’t seen much innovation in about 40 years.

“It turns out that things like ketamine do really amazing things, in re-engaging, brain circuits, to kind of come online again, to strengthen the connections between brain cells,” Jaideep Bains, director of research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary.

Bains said he’s interested in the biological affect of psychedelics on the brain, and says more clinical trails and scientific research is needed.

“What we’d really like to figure out is how to change molecules to maintain their therapeutic effect, but eliminate some of the side effects that may not be beneficial.”

Bains says he is interested in research that tries to determine if specific disease-states or brain states can be modified with psychedelic compounds.

Vancouver-based researchers hope psychedelic-assisted therapieswill soon expand in the coming months to include psilocybin (street name: magic mushrooms) or methylenedioxymethamphetamine (a.k.a MDMA or the street name: Molly).

“(With) psychedelic treatments, the promise or optimistic hope for them is they would actually provide short-term very intense treatments where people don’t need long term medications,” Mark Haden, adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.

POTENTIAL TO TRANSFORM

Haden says psychedelics have the potential to transform medicine, psychiatry and addiction treatment in Canada.

“These professions have often been historically sort of managing symptoms, not curing the problem. Psychedelics offer the opportunity to actually be curative.”

Haden then added, “When you move away from a prohibitionist model that is expensive and ineffective, and move toward a health model, it saves lives and it saves money.”

On Jan. 5, 2022 Health Canada launched a Special Access Program (SAP) for physicians to access restricted drugs for their patients on a case-by-case basis — patients cannot apply and access isn’t guaranteed.

There are no therapeutic products containing psilocybin, LSD, MDMA or DMT approved for sale in Canada outside of a clinical trial, and Health Canada offered no timeline for when more psychedelics will be authorized for therapeutic use.

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