By Greg Ferenstein
Joan was desperate to overcome an eating disorder, which she had been struggling with since adolescence.
The disorder was unfortunately more than dangerously low weight; she didn’t have the energy to live her life and do what she loved most like hiking or traveling.
This spiralled into depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
Eating disorders are a major mental health challenge. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a staggering 9% of the global population struggles with some form of eating disorder. Consistent with Joan’s experience, an estimated 26% with the condition attempt suicide.
The pandemic has been especially challenging for those suffering from mental health conditions and may have exacerbated the incidences of those struggling with eating disorders.
Joan tried many treatments, including a longer term residential program. But the coercive nature of being committed in a facility left her fearful to try more intensive, traditional medical services.
So, like many people, she turned to less traditional services in the psychedelics underground with facilitators who could help her cope with mental illness using unapproved drugs.
“I've done psilocybin to LSD,” she says.
Given that there is no regulation or oversight, the psychedelics underground can be a precarious place.
After an underground session with MDMA, a synthetic compound currently in final stages of FDA clinical trials, Joan said she developed some important sense of self-acceptance.
“It's the first time I was able to look at myself in a mirror,” she recalls. Previously she had so much self-loathing for her appearance.
The psychedelic experiences convinced her that she could focus on her health.
Eventually, Joan met someone from Cedar by Novamind and decided to go for a few sessions of their Emotion Focused Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EF-KAP).
Novamind recently published a case series of patients undergoing ketamine-assisted therapy for eating disorders and found promising results. “The seemingly rapid response in mood to ketamine treatments observed in some cases is congruent with previous studies of ketamine for depression,” concluded the report.
Joan’s experience seems consistent with the report’s results. In total, she had two sessions.
“Something shifted in me,” she says.
Sometimes people experience intense visualizations in a ketamine experience, but not always. After one of the sessions, Joan remembers calling her mother and being more open to new ideas.
“I was able to think about things more rationally and just hold ideas that I couldn't have held otherwise.”
Since those sessions, Joan says that she gets less “freaked out” about eating more calories per day. Previously that sort of idea frightened her, but less so after the ketamine sessions.
And she is currently becoming more comfortable with the idea of gaining weight.
“I don't have to gain a ton of weight. But I want to have a little bit more energy to do some of the things I used to do, like hiking and traveling.”
*Joan is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity
About the author
Greg Ferenstein is the founder of Frederick Research, a mental health innovation consulting firm. His research has been widely covered in leading publications, including the New York Times, The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post.
His field investigations in mental health have been supported by respected technology companies, from Google.org to Lyft and his public policy papers have influenced bills at the U.S. federal and state level.
Prior to founding Frederick Research, he taught statistics for journalists at the University of Texas and received a Masters in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences.