By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal
When local family physician Mario Nucci shifted his focus to mental health, he discovered at least a third of mental health patients were deemed “treatment resistant.” During his residency, Nucci became familiar with ketamine, which is traditionally used as an anesthetic medicine, and has repeatedly demonstrated that it could be game-changing for his patients who don’t respond to traditional treatments and suffer from depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The ketamine treatments have been so successful that Nucci has since opened his own clinic, the Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Healing, and has to continuously hire more health-care professionals to help keep up with the demand. He is also expanding his clinical business to Sault Ste. Marie.
Nucci described his residency in Dryden, where he and his supervisor looked after a suicidal patient who had tried multiple unsuccessful medication trials.
“After a single dose of ketamine, she was 70 per cent improved in her symptoms and after a second dose, we couldn’t even tell that she had depression … and this just blew my mind,” he said.
Excited by this discovery and seeing the potential to help so many people, Nucci dove deeper into more research and training in this type of intervention.
Ketamine is not like an opioid or substance that causes addiction. When administered by a doctor, it puts people in an empathogenic state and allows them to process their trauma in a more open and accepting way without that anxiety response, he explained.
“The whole principle is that you can alter someone’s state with these medicines, and then provide some therapy that can rewire their brain in a more rapid, deep and meaningful way (often with results after just one or two treatments) — and that’s the model behind psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy,” he said.
One of Nucci’s patients is a health-care professional and entrepreneur who suffers from PTSD and major depressive disorder, which has been life-debilitating for her. Her diagnosis is the result of a traumatic motor vehicle collision where she endured severe physical disabilities and chronic pain which ultimately caused the PTSD. Although the patient’s healing journey saw her return to work, she was still suffering from impostor syndrome where she encounters bouts of fear, anxiety and doubt in her abilities.
The ketamine treatments helped her feel more confident, productive in the workforce, and has helped her handle stress better, she said.
Ketamine can be considered part of a class of mind-altering substances called psychedelic substances, the classical ones being psilocybin, otherwise known as magic mushrooms and Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Nucci says these types of substances have started to have a “bit of a renaissance” in the last two decades for the treatment of mental health conditions. He said it appears that ketamine and these other substances all share very similar properties that when used clinically, can rapidly and beneficially impact mental health patients.
“My colleagues in psychiatry and psychology who were not typically familiar with procedures or the use of this medicine kept sending me people that they couldn’t fit into (their treatment programs). These patients were bed-bound, suicidal and had tried everything, but nothing worked,” he said.
“(With the ketamine treatment), these patients would become better and it was transformative. I got so busy.”
Nucci has been coined “the ketamine guy” by fellow doctors and colleagues.
“Our team now specializes in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy,” he said. “Ketamine is a legal psychedelic. It’s not behind the government red tape, it’s more readily available, and it has profound beneficial effects. We can also apply to the government to ask for special permission in the case that we want to use other substances.”
Nucci noted that a wide range of people, especially first responders, are among the many patients who have been struggling for decades and have tried multiple medications or therapies to no avail.
“Now they’re functional. From a state of having a severe symptom burden they are now at the point where they’re happy, functional, they’re living good lives and they’re back on the job working as mechanics or nurses or first responders,” he said. “To be quite frank, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in medicine.”
Nucci’s goal is to try to get this “therapeutic modality” to more patients and get them back to work with functioning healthy lives.
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