Though cofounder Ronan Levy wants patients to trip, he and his team set out to do so in a medically supervised setting, with the hope of prompting a psychedelic experience to treat anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"With the right doses, ketamine can induce a very psychedelic experience similar to LSD or psilocybin," Levy tells New Times. "Classic studies have shown that when those drugs are paired with therapy, the mental-health improvement is extraordinary."
And it's legal: Long known to clubgoers as Special K, ketamine has been used as an anesthetic in hospitals since the 1970s and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for decades. But when the FDA approved Spravato, a nasal spray that contains a ketamine derivative, for treatment-resistant depression in 2019, its use in mental health gained traction. Clinics across the continent took notice and began administering the drug, typically via an IV.
Field Trip Health will not be Miami's first or even second ketamine clinic. At My Ketamine Home, located inside a boxy medical building on Coral Way, opened in 2018, Dr. Kazi Hassan and his team treat people suffering from depression and anxiety and offer pro bono care to veterans and survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting. Dr. Jeffrey Kamlet, a leader in psychedelic-assisted treatments and the principal investigator on more than 20 major pharmaceutical trials, counsels patients at Tristar Wellness in Miami Beach. At his clinic on W. 41st Street, Kamlet oversees ketamine infusions and leads therapy, noting improvements in depression, PTSD, sleep, and interpersonal relationships.
"I saw the meaning and the beauty of my existence, " one of Kamlet's suicidal patients told CBS12 in West Palm Beach. "After ketamine, it's like your eyes are opened and you see what you couldn't see before. That life is beautiful."
Unlike most other ketamine clinics, Field Trip Health doesn't administer the ketamine via an IV drip bag that administers 50 milligrams of ketamine over the span of a few hours. Instead, Levy's clinics inject the entire dose intramuscularly all at once.
"It takes you into a deeper experience," Levy explains. "I don't like drawing comparisons to alcohol — [ketamine] is very different — but it's like taking five shots of tequila versus drinking five beers over a couple of hours."
Designed with plush pillows, natural lighting, and a palette of earth tones, Field Trip Health clinics feel like a cross between a New Age yoga studio and a trendy cafe that upcharges for oat milk. Though the sessions are medically supervised, they lack the white walls and fluorescent glare of traditional medical clinics.
"I believe psychedelic therapies is going to be the primary form of mental-health therapy in the next five to ten years and will revolutionize psychiatry," Levy says. "The psychedelic renaissance is going to to be the most dominant social force in the next 30 to 50 years, and there's an important responsibility in making sure it's done responsibly and properly."
Though ketamine isn't considered a typical psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD, it is a psychotropic drug and can affect behavior, mood, thoughts, and perception. In high enough doses, it can flood the brain with serotonin and is believed to increase neural plasticity in the brain to allow for breakthroughs in the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even addiction.
Whereas psilocybin and LSD can distort sensory perception with colors and fractals, Levy explains that ketamine is "less flowery" but "offers a lot of objectivity." He says patients report having an out-of-body experience, wherein "they can watch everything happening," and that it can be "very emotional."
"[Ketamine] allows patients to see past experiences and traumas that they might be holding on to, and see the world from a different lens and perspective," he says.
If the psychiatrist recommends ketamine-assisted therapy, the patient is then given a treatment plan. According to Levy, a typical visit includes an hourlong "exploratory" ketamine session on a zero-gravity leather chair while wearing eyeshades and headphones. Then comes an "integration" session, in which the patient and therapist talk through the experience to make sense of the feelings and emotions brought up during the session. Four "exploratory" and two "integration" sessions over one month comprise a typical treatment plan.
Levy reports that patients suffering from severe depression at the onset of treatment began experiencing only mild depressive symptoms after 120 days.
"It takes some antidepressants six to eight weeks before you start seeing any results," he says. "Whereas we're seeing almost immediate results, especially when it's sustained."
Treatments, though, are expensive. An "exploratory" ketamine session costs roughly $750, while the "integration" sessions are $250. But since the FDA approved the Spravato nasal spray and ketamine clinics become more mainstream, some insurance companies have begun partially covering ketamine-assisted therapies. Levy says patients have been able to recoup anywhere from 10 percent to 70 percent of the cost.
"The psychedelic renaissance is still in its early days," he adds.
In January of this year, Florida Rep. Michael Grieco, whose district includes Miami Beach and a swath of central Miami, introduced Florida House Bill 549, the Florida Psilocybin Mental Health Care Act, which would create state-sponsored clinics where patients suffering from mental health disorders could be administered microdoses of psilocybin by a licensed medical professional. The bill died in the Professions & Public Health Subcommittee in April.
In September, Grieco and Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book filed twin bills, HB 193 and SB 348, to be considered during the 2022 legislative session. If approved, they would direct the Florida Department of Health to study therapeutic uses of hallucinogens — psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA — in treating anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and migraines.
Levy says that as more psychedelic therapies become legalized and approved, he intends to offer them to patients at Field Trip Health.
"It's absolutely our plan to incorporate MDMA, DMT, LSD, psilocybin as soon as those therapies are approved," he says. "We want to be multi-molecule diagnostic."