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Calgary clinic pushing for better access to psychedelic therapy

WARNING: This article contains discussion of suicide and suicidal ideation. 

For all his adult life, Evann Gentry has suffered from depression. But his condition was exacerbated to a dangerous level in 2008, when he says he was assaulted and hazed while serving in the military.

Suffering debilitating panic attacks and outbursts of anger, the depression was so severe he tried to end his life twice.

“I was going through a very difficult time with my depression, and medication and regular counseling were not having the desired effect or outcome,” he said.

After years of trying different forms of treatment, in January 2023, he entered an unassuming building in Calgary’s Sunalta neighbourhood.

He and his partner saw SABI Mind as a last-ditch attempt at healing.

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Evann Gentry turned to clinic-assisted ketamine therapy as a last resort for his depression.

Courtesy: Evann Gentry


SABI Mind is one of a handful of clinics in Alberta that specializes in ketamine-assisted therapy.

Designed to reflect a Japanese teahouse, its soft lighting and minimalist décor is inviting and comfortable.

After an intake and consultation process, eligible patients enter a treatment room, and under the supervision of a registered nurse, receive a dose of the powerful anesthetic, Ketamine.

The drug puts patients in a dissociative state. For Gentry, that meant being cut off from his senses and thrown into complete blackness.

“I don’t know how to describe it. You’re just in this world with no ego, no feeling, no nothing. And the ketamine kind of speaks to you during those sessions and shows you what you need to see or need to understand, and it shows it to you without emotion,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Ketamine clinic opens for treatment of severe depression'

Ketamine clinic opens for treatment of severe depression

After just one session, Gentry says he felt like a completely different person.

“There was a great change in my personality, my reaction to things, and it was doing its job really quick,” he said.

“I had an immediate increase in my patience and much less daily annoyance. No more anger. My anger dissipated completely.”

Sara Brooks is the patient experience specialist at SABI Mind. She says the advantage of ketamine-assisted therapy is the psychedelic experience that allows patients to look inward and get to the core of their condition.

Sabi Mind is a clinic in Calgary offering psychedelic assisted therapy.

Global News

“It can provide them with answers to questions they have asked of themselves regarding their situation. And it can also interrupt their usual patterns of thinking,” Brooks said.

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That “interruption” usually makes patients more receptive to traditional forms of treatment like psychotherapy.

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“Even though this is an interventional treatment, we see that the benefits can last a really long time because of all of these pieces of the therapeutic process working together.”

Click to play video: 'The controversial buzz surrounding psychedelic therapy'

The controversial buzz surrounding psychedelic therapy

SABI Mind president Philippe Lucas is heavily involved in the global push within the scientific community to increase access to psychedelics for those suffering severe, treatment-resistant conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He recently released the findings of a global survey on psychedelics use, which gathered data from more than 6,000 people around the world – the largest survey of its kind.

He hopes to use the data to help inform significant upcoming policy decisions around the safe access of psychedelics in Canada.

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While ketamine can be prescribed legally for use in psychotherapy clinics, other substances like psilocybin and MDMA are far more restricted.

Click to play video: 'Psychedelic party drug MDMA is now being used to treat PTSD'

Psychedelic party drug MDMA is now being used to treat PTSD

“There’s no doubt that the Canadian psychedelic industry is currently in a leadership position around the world… (but) right now, accessing legal psychedelics in Canada is still far too challenging and far too difficult,” Lucas said.

Health Canada told Global News that, as of fall 2023, over 150 Canadians have been authorized to receive psilocybin and over 30 have been authorized to receive MDMA.

Psilocybin and MDMA, which have both been studied extensively, are only available to a handful of Canadians through Health Canada’s Special Access Program. Physicians apply on behalf of their patients on a case-by-case basis, primarily for those suffering end-of-life anxiety.

“It’s unfortunately just a drop in the bucket of the patients that are currently seeking out these treatments,” Lucas added.

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Lucas believes MDMA will likely be given approval for use in clinical settings by next year, while psilocybin may gain the same status by 2025.

In a statement, Health Canada told Global News that “clinical trials remain the most appropriate way to advance research about products with a possible medical benefit and bring them toward market authorization, while protecting the health and safety of participants.”

It added that the drug authorization process is initiated when a manufacturer submits an application to Health Canada for review and, so far, the department has not received an application for market authorization of any psychedelic beyond ketamine.

“Health Canada would welcome and encourage manufacturers to bring their treatments to the Canadian market to benefit the health and safety of all Canadians, however Health Canada cannot compel a manufacturer to submit an application to market a drug in Canada,” read the statement.

Click to play video: 'Psychedelics approved for medical use in Canada'

Psychedelics approved for medical use in Canada

In October 2022, the Alberta government amended its Mental Health Services Protection Regulations legislation to include requirements and standards for psychedelic-assisted therapy, becoming the first province in Canada to put these guidelines and medical oversight in place.

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Psychedelic drugs that fall under this amendment include psilocybin, psilocin, MDMA, LSD, mescaline (peyote), DMT, 5 methoxy DMT and ketamine.

Click to play video: 'Psychedelic drug Ketamine being used for mental health treatments in Alberta'

Psychedelic drug Ketamine being used for mental health treatments in Alberta

Lucas is not alone in calling for better access. In November, the Senate subcommittee on Veteran Affairs released a report titled The Time is Now: Granting equitable access to psychedelic-assisted therapies. 

It calls on Veterans Affairs Canada, the Department of National Defence and Health Canada to “immediately launch and fund a large-scale research program on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy” and make it more accessible to veterans suffering serious mental health disorders like PTSD.

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“The research into psychedelic-assisted therapy is too promising to ignore,” subcommittee chair, Senator David Richards, said in a news release.

“Our veterans sacrifice so much — we must do everything we can to help them.”

Health Canada has given the green light to 16 clinical trials exploring psychedelic-assisted therapy as a treatment for PTSD, six of which are ongoing.

In a statement, the department told Global News that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will support three new clinical trials examining psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, and more trial applications will be opened to the research community in the spring and fall of 2024.

Click to play video: 'Canadian senators urge federal government to research psychedelic-assisted therapy for war veterans'

Canadian senators urge federal government to research psychedelic-assisted therapy for war veterans

There is plenty of excitement around the potential role psychedelics will play in a worsening mental health crisis – Lucas calls it one of the most exciting treatment options in 40 years — but SABI Mind is also quick to try and temper expectations.

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“Psychedelic-assisted therapy is not a silver bullet. It’s not a panacea. Not everyone will respond to it,” Brooks said.

“However, I would say most people tend to report quite significant improvements that are successful in part because of the goals people come in with.”

Gentry’s goal was to emerge from the extremely dark place he found himself in. In that, he has succeeded.

“There was a huge reduction in my negative thoughts. My suicidal ideations almost completely lifted I would say. Like 95 per cent.”

His hope is to gradually take fewer and fewer doses of ketamine, eventually down to once or twice a year for a “reset.”

He’d also like to enjoy a good book. He says in his depressive state, he found it nearly impossible to read – something he used to enjoy.

“By the second session, I picked up a novel to read, just for fun, again,” he said, smiling.

“And that was huge. That was just huge.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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