CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Earlier this year, a Mecklenburg County Representative proposed a bill to fund research for psychedelic-assisted therapy for veterans and others suffering from PTSD.
While that bill makes its way through the state legislature, there’s already a legal drug used in hospitals and veterinary clinics that can have similar therapeutic effects when used correctly.
Dérive Health opened in May 2023, providing safe ketamine treatments to help clients break through huge mental barriers.
One client swears by the positive effects the treatment has on her life. Lindsay Rowe is a completely different person than she was this past February.
“At that point, I had spent all of December and January in bed,” Rowe explained.
COVID lockdowns severely impacted Rowes’ role as a youth therapist in a local school district, leading to burnout and deep depression.
“Medication had stopped working, and the medication that would sort of work, I was numb,” Rowe said.
But then, she got a literal sign to try something she said “fixed” her brain: ketamine.
“I randomly happened upon it,” Rowe recalled. “A girlfriend of mine brought me to one of those like free vitamin drips, and I saw on the sign that said “ketamine,” and I was like, What is this?”
While most hear “ketamine” and think about street drugs and bad trips, Dr. Jonathan Leake sees a vehicle for healing.
“We’re primarily focused on helping people with treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Leake said.
Leake is the medical director and CEO of the newly opened Dérive Health in Dilworth, nestled right between a coffee house and a grocery store. It gives off more of a spa feel than a medical clinic.
“We schedule for two hours for door-to-door,” he said. “And so when you come in for the first time, we spend anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time, and that’s just kind of discussing your history, what’s been going on, what brings you in today, and then really starting the preparation for the session.”
During a session, the ketamine is infused slowly through an IV over roughly 40 minutes while the client wears eye shades and noise-canceling headphones with music; two things shown to help people relax and disconnect.
“They’re aware of what’s going on around them, they’re even able to talk and communicate, but really, they may enter kind of this psychedelic type realm where it’s a little like a dream-like state, but you’re awake,” Dr. Leake explained.
When clients are in that psychedelic realm, Dr. Leake said the experience differs from person to person, but generally speaking, it helps them see things a little differently.
“It’s allowing the client to have a conversation with themselves. They’re kind of able to look at their behaviors, their thoughts, their feelings, and kind of go, ‘Oh, that’s what that’s all about,’ or ‘Oh, that’s why I do that maybe,” he said.
Afterward, clients are required to have a designated person to get them home safely and are encouraged to take it easy for the next 24 hours.
While counseling isn’t part of the Dérive Health session – Dr. Leake encourages clients to talk with a therapist, trusted friend, or family member or to use a journal to unpack their experience.
He said, “We find that ketamine really kind of opens people up, and so it allows those sessions to kind of be more meaningful and go a little bit deeper as well.”
Rowe tells Queen City News that her sessions were like seeing her life as an observer.
“I didn’t hallucinate at all; I didn’t see anything. I saw like maybe a few colors, but nothing special,” she said. “When I remembered, like, negative experiences of my past, it was very much like I was watching a movie.”
Dr. Leake, who’s also an emergency medical doctor, has used ketamine countless times for hospital procedures and explains that the line between anesthetic and psychedelic – is all about dosage.
“When we use it as a psychedelic, what we do is we actually use about a quarter of that dose,” he said.
Research has also shown that ketamine, used correctly, is non-addictive.
“Using ketamine in a therapeutic setting versus using it in the street is, you know, as different as meat and vegetables, you know?” Leake said. “They’re just two totally different things.”
A quick Google search turns up dozens of ketamine clinics in Charlotte that have been around for years, and while the treatment is becoming more widely accepted, Dr. Leake hopes state legislation can open up doors to other treatments.
“A lot of mental health has been applying a Band-Aid to symptoms,” he said, “And so it’s really exciting with psychedelic therapy and ketamine therapy to have something that you can do for a period of time, maybe three months, two months, somewhere in that range, several sessions, and they can have kind of long-lasting change.”
The entire course of treatment at Dérive Health is about six sessions, and now that that time has come and gone for Rowe, she said for the first time in a while, she’s hopeful.
“I’m not as sad anymore, or I’m not ruminating on that thought that I had been for the past month, you know?” she said. “Just started to notice a difference in my thought patterns, and I started to feel lighter.”
Sessions at Dérive Health cost about $400 each.
Meanwhile, The Breakthrough Therapies Research and Advisory Act, proposed in the North Carolina legislature to fund psychedelic research, was filed in April and received a unanimous favorable report after being heard in the House Health Committee.
The next step is the House Appropriations Committee.