While psilocybin and MDMA-assisted therapy were the topic of several TV shows, documentaries, and news segments in 2021, the use of psychedelics is still illegal in the United States, regardless of the context they are used in. The same cannot be said of ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic with remarkable anti-depressant effects, that at the right dose, can induce powerful altered states of consciousness.
A Team of Specialists, Led by Nurses
Entrepreneur Kathryn Walker is a nurse anesthetist, psychiatric nurse, and the CEO of Revitalist Wellness (CSE: CALM) (OTC: RVLWF) (FSE: 4DO), a company operating a network of ketamine infusion clinics headquartered in Knoxville. Far from the “get in, get out” clinics offering cold, sterile waiting rooms and minimal human interaction, Revitalist clinics were created based on research touting enriched environments, and aim to relax rather than overstimulate. (Walker likens them to spas.)
With more than 20 years in healthcare, including as a level-one trauma nurse and anesthesia provider, she founded the company in 2018 with the vision of creating a CRNA-led business with an integrative model; one that brought in professionals from different medical specialities. Nurses play a much larger role in patient health than they are given credit for, and Walker says they’re ideal for psychedelic therapy because their job involves closely monitoring patients for changes.
“We’re led by nurses, but we’re pulling in all the specialists,” says Walker.
Rather than simply administering ketamine infusions and sending clients on their way, Revitalist’s diverse team of nurses, neurosurgeons, a trauma surgeon, a heart surgeon, psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, and even a gastroenterologist focus on holistic treatment of the individual. Walker has participated in thousands of sessions herself and has seen firsthand how transformative they can be for individuals suffering from depression and suicidal ideation.
“When someone has anxiety or depression or PTSD or suicidality, if you break down the cognitive function of what’s going on in the brain, the brain is overstimulated. It’s working to a maximum level of capacity and that is making that person unhealthy,” says Walker.
“The neat thing about ketamine, and other psychedelics as they come out, is we can see the root of what is causing the brain to react this way.”
For someone with severe depression, the rapid anti-depressant effects of ketamine can help bring them back to baseline, at least for a window of time. Revitalist offers multiple-session programs to ensure that the window is maximised.
“Once a process is stimulated, support is needed for at least six weeks until acute changes become more chronic,” says Walker.
Not all ketamine infusion clinics are equal. At Revitalist, when a ketamine infusion is provided, a therapist will sit with the patient for the entire process—something Walker says is crucial to helping an individual process their experience as it happens.
“You are clear and cloudy at the same time when you get infusions,” she says. “If there’s something heavy from your past that the subconscious has not processed, you’re actually comfortable talking about it during the infusion because you’re not emotionally connected to it.”
In essence, ketamine can help decouple an individual’s emotional subjectivity from their objectivity, enabling them to “look from a third-person perspective at a first-person feeling.”
Once they’ve reached a mild to moderate level of dissociation, Walker says patients can process their emotions before they speak. “Then I can go in and start asking dissociation questions, and I can get very specific answers: How are you feeling? Why are you feeling that way? On the subconscious level, the brain is so clear.”
Having a professional on hand to help process what comes up can also be beneficial when the session is through, as it is common for people to forget the contents of their experience immediately after a ketamine infusion ends. Post-treatment support, Walker says, is a critical element of care with psychedelic drugs, and she says it’s why Revitalist doesn’t plan to offer at-home treatments.
“Depression needs community. You need to be connected to people,” she says. “That’s what psychedelics do—they’re a medication that’s helping us connect to others.”
The Bridge to the Future of Healthcare
Walker is a firm believer that for the existing medical establishment to accept psychedelics, it’s going to require a shift in healthcare, one that reconnects the mind to the body.
“We’ve been doing the same thing for so many years, and the only thing that we’ve upgraded is the payment models,” she says. “We’ve decreased the amount of time we spend with patients, and we’ve increased our responsibilities.”
For Walker, what’s needed for that shift to occur is integrative teams that believe in and support the use of psychedelics; not only to treat patients in a more holistic way, but also to help reduce stigma around these misunderstood drugs in the medical field.
“It helps to normalize them, because as a patient, you’re not just seeing a psychiatrist, you’re seeing the whole medical team,” she says. “Even as a country we have the Institute of Health, and the Institute of Mental Health, so we’ve segregated these two departments. Psychedelics are going to be the thing that pulls them together.”