How ketamine-based clinics improve veterans’ mental health

Dr. Sam Zand has seen many patients struggling with PTSD come through his office. Many come up with similar objections: doctors dispense brain-rewiring drugs too freely, there isn’t enough medical consultation, and there’s rarely a treatment plan to supplement the stack of pills.

As the founder of the Las Vegas-based Calm Clinic, Zand, a clinical psychiatrist who also teaches on the topic of psychedelic therapy at local universities, has been a staunch proponent of a range of non-traditional treatment methods that have gained momentum in recent years.

One such practice, intravenous ketamine infusion therapy, has shown particularly significant promise in reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms in the veteran community.

Ketamine treatments have made enough inroads with PTSD symptom relief that the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Care Network recently expanded its relationship with ketamine wellness centers to provide veterans with additional treatment options, such as the first ketamine nasal spray it approved Federal Drug Administration.

Zand told the Military Times that the move was overdue.

We overdiagnose and overprescribe in psychiatry, Zand said at the MCON Military and Veterans Culture Convention in Las Vegas. What [the Calm Clinic is] it’s introducing more holistic, innovative measures, such as ketamine therapy, and recognizing that there are so many other strategies we can tap into to improve our mental health.

Veterans afflicted with PTSD often enter the Calm clinic experiencing symptoms of hyper-vigilance and fight-or-flight, Zand added. However, with intravenous ketamine treatment modalities, the body and nervous system become more relaxed and therefore more receptive to treatment.

This approach, especially when coupled with talk therapy, is a formula designed to produce immediate and lasting results, Zand said.

As much as talk therapy can be done, without feeling relaxed and without resetting your body, it’s hard to tap into that growth mindset, he said. So bringing relaxation and psychological growth is the combination we need for our veteran community, and we’re tailoring our program to work with vets to meet them where they’re at with a sense of compassion.

That program begins with a patient-clinician meeting in person or online to fully assess factors contributing to the patient’s PTSD symptoms.

Depending on how those symptoms manifest, the Zands team adjusts the treatment plan through modalities that range from traditional medications to talk therapy and electrical stimulation. Combining these programs in different capacities, he said, has yielded tremendous results.

And the Calm clinic is not alone in its success. A recent VA study found that 86% of veteran participants who participated in ketamine infusion therapy showed significant improvement in treatment-resistant depression.

One method of enhancing that success is to incorporate sound-based therapy before or after the ketamine infusion. This approach, according to Torcom Yee, a Los Angeles-based meditation specialist who practices sound and vibration therapies, supports a level of physical and mental calm that can enhance the results of the infusion.

Sound therapy quickly calms the body and mind to prepare you for a deeper sense of relaxation, Yee said. This can help prepare you for what you’re about to get into during a ketamine session. You need that space in time to be able to integrate the experience. And using vibrations and listening to music, especially tonal music rich in overtones and soundscapes, helps us integrate a deeper sense of calm.

Of course, achieving composure has proven difficult for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. A 2022 study on veterans and mental health problems found that approximately 14%-16% of veterans who served in the Global War on Terrorism suffer from PTSD.

And yet, with these new therapies working together, an immersive, almost transformative experience is possible, Zand said.

We often think that something is wrong with us, that we have to fix it ourselves, said Zand. And that’s not true. We all have a mental health journey. But this treatment does not care about turning. We adapt it to our community. And by leading with love and compassion, it worked wonderfully.

Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times and a USMC veteran.

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