We are in the midst of a global mental-health crisis. Conditions such as depression and anxiety are on the rise. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this crisis as the stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic have led to an increase in mental-health problems.

I am a clinic owner and physician and treat clients with various mental-health disorders. I am seeing, first-hand, patients who have not found relief from traditional pharmaceuticals and are looking for different treatment options. Psychedelics have shown great promise in treating conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, these substances are illegal in most states and still extremely tightly regulated by the federal government.

In Illinois, there is a glimmer of hope. A bill was introduced last month in Springfield by Rep. LaShawn Ford that would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, a naturally-occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of mushrooms.

Unfortunately, the legislative and administrative process can take some time, years most likely. While we continue to work toward this legalization, there is an alternative available now that many people are not aware of — ketamine. Not a psychedelic, ketamine is available to patients now to help with a variety of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Research suggests that ketamine and psilocybin work in a similar way by increasing neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences. This could lead to the formation of new connections between brain cells, which could help to improve brain function over time. They also appear to have an effect on the default mode network (DMN) which is a network of brain regions that are active when the mind is at rest. This network is involved in self-referential thinking and rumination, which are common in depression. By decreasing activity in the DMN, these substances may help to reduce symptoms of depression by breaking up patterns of negative thinking.

Studies have shown that ketamine can quickly reduce symptoms of depression, even in people who have not responded to other treatments. This is likely due to ketamine’s ability to rapidly increase the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, which can have an immediate effect on mood. Additionally, ketamine may also promote the growth of new connections between brain cells, which could help to improve brain function over time.

While it is legal to undergo ketamine treatments there are a few things prospective patients should know before starting. Ketamine is not FDA-approved for mental health disorders, which means that providers are using it “off-label” when treating conditions such as depression, and choosing a skilled and experienced provider is critically important. Finding a knowledgeable provider who thoroughly evaluates each patient and customizes an individualized care plan is essential, as is researching the setting in which treatments will take place. A patient should feel safe, comfortable, and well cared for.

Patients should know they have options for mental health if their current treatment plan isn’t working, and with work in Springfield by Rep. Ford and others, there will hopefully be another option on the horizon.

Rachel Norris

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