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Sault psychedelic mental health clinic claiming high success rate

'It’s groundbreaking and it’s incredible that it’s here in Sault Ste. Marie,' says social worker Julie Myers of ketamine therapy
Ashley Irwin and Julie Myers, Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Healing registered social workers, Dec. 12, 2023.

One year after opening a Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Healing office in Sault Ste. Marie to treat those suffering from severe mental health issues, staff are encouraged with the results they’ve seen in their clients.

The centre works with people who have suffered long periods of anxiety and depression that stop them from living their lives to the fullest.

“It’s been the most fulfilling work I’ve done in 16 years of being a registered social worker. We’ve had folks who have considered medically assisted dying and we’ve had folks who are extremely suicidal who have made attempts at taking their own life," said Ashley Irwin speaking to SooToday.

The local Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Healing office, located in Suite 303 at 390 Bay St., is the sole provider of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) in the region.

“We’ve had almost 50 clients through the clinic. We’ve had an 88 per cent success rate reported by clients. In traditional psychotherapy you don’t see those results in  such a short term model. It’s been lovely to see the large range of folks we’ve been able to support. Suicidality has been dissipated and people have shown a new sense of fulfillment and compassion toward themselves. We’ve had an individual with OCD, and the ritualistic OCD urges have completely gone away after just one session,” Irwin said.

“It’s the most exciting work. It’s groundbreaking and it’s incredible that ketamine is here in Sault Ste. Marie,” said Julie Myers, a registered social worker for the past 15 years.

Clients can refer themselves for KAP treatment if they feel their mental health issues have not eased after two attempts at treatment with antidepressants and/or traditional counselling.

“A lot of times we’re working with folks who’ve been on several antidepressants that haven’t really supported them to feel fulfilled, alive and participating in life, and they’re reporting that ketamine is helping them come back to themselves. So that’s been really neat to see the difference,” Irwin said.

KAP involves the use of ketamine, a pediatric anesthetic, to ease entrenched negative attitudes within the mind.

“We use ketamine in low doses and it induces a psychedelic state. It can really assist in diminishing symptoms of treatment-resistant mental health issues,” Irwin said.

“Ketamine acts as a catalyst in treatment. It really elevates the therapeutic process and acts as a catalyst to much more rapid change and shifts in perspective,” Myers said. 

“Basically it allows clients to promote forgiveness toward self and others, to end something negative that might be causing intrusiveness in their life through symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares. A client may feel like there's been a weight lifted from them. They feel much more connected to themselves in mind and body and more connected to a sense of community, participating in events and daily living,” Irwin said.

The process begins with a phone call to a nurse administrator at the Bay Street office.

A nurse at the office will receive a client and measure their weight, examine their blood pressure and heart rate.

From there, an on-site nurse practitioner will decide if KAP is suitable for them.

The client then meets with social workers Irwin or Myers to outline their desired treatment goals.

A treatment session begins with a nurse practitioner administering a sublingual ketamine lozenge.

A few minutes later, the client is then guided by Irwin or Myers to a meditative, altered state. 

“They can go back and reprocess something that happened with a lighter, more pleasant emotion to be felt,” Irwin said.

“For a lot of clients who may have struggled with traditional therapy who don’t feel comfortable opening up, that psychedelic state is providing them with an enhanced comfort level and they’re able to open up more. With ketamine it’s just a whole new ball game. People are willing to open up and the results of that are pretty incredible.”

Social workers will then use a process called integration, which is an attempt to instill new habits and healthy tendencies in a client, such as enjoying nature or taking up creative pursuits once the brain is at an optimal level of functioning. 

“There tends to be a really significant level of motivation after,” Myers said. 

After a ketamine session with a social worker, the client will be checked by a nurse to verify if their overall state, including their mobility, is in check before they leave the office.

On average, prep time before a session with a social worker lasts for 30 to 45 minutes, the ketamine-induced altered state lasts for 45 to 60 minutes and post treatment integration with a social worker is approximately 45 minutes, a treatment session usually two and a half hours in duration.

Sessions are longer for clients who have been suicidal.

Clients are not left unattended.

The office’s treatment course consists of six sessions, two per week for a three week period. 

A post-treatment summary is written in which clients are asked if their treatment goals have been met or if they feel a need for further treatment.

“Most often there isn’t,” Irwin said.

“Their needs have been met and that’s nice to see for a relatively short term model of treatment. Clients have the opportunity to come back for a consultation or further maintenance appointments if needed. They can ask for a monthly followup after a course of treatment."

The office has treated clients - from teens to seniors - from the Sault and Algoma District.

The Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Healing is monitored by Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health.

In the past year the Centre has acquired Field Trip Health and has offices in Ottawa, Vancouver, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Toronto.

Treatment sessions are not covered by OHIP and cost approximately $3,700. 

A good benefit plan can cover up to approximately $2,200 of that amount, Irwin said.

“It’s hard not to get extremely passionate about it because we’re seeing the results. We want to shout it from the rooftops, that it’s here in the Sault and it’s working so well. Traditional therapy can be a struggle and progress is sometimes slow but every one of these sessions feels groundbreaking,” Myers said.


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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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