Ketamine and psilocybin, better known as party drugs, showing promise for treatment of mood disorders


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Toronto – It has been more than a decade since Bruno Guerremont returned to Canada from his military deployment in Afghanistan. Like many other veterans, Guerremont’s experiences of the war took a mental toll.

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During their second tour in 2009, Guerremont was part of the team that destroyed IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

One incident, in particular, changed that. Guerremont says he was the first Canadian soldier to disable a suicide jacket on a survivor. But in that case it was not the high level of danger that affected him.


“The suicidal attacker was mentally unsound. He was told that if he didn’t do that, they would kill his family,” Guerremont told W5 correspondent Avery Haines. “So he started playing with my mind.”

After returning to Canada, Guerremont suffered from panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. He was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety.

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When talk therapy and anti-depressants didn’t help, Guerremont sought out alternatives in an effort to recover his mental health. He joined the Arctic Expedition with other veterans in 2014, captained Team Canada at the 2016 Invictus Games, and became the mental health spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Then, in March, 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown sent Guerremont into a tailspin, and he contemplated suicide again.

“I started getting really depressed, dark thoughts started coming in,” he told W5.

That’s when Guerremont learned of an unconventional treatment for severe depression and PTSD that included the drug ketamine.

Ketamine is notorious for being a hallucinogenic party drug nicknamed Special K, a veterinary tranquilizer and an anesthetic that has been used in hospitals for over 50 years. But at sub-anesthetic doses, the drug has shown the ability to quickly reduce symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking, within weeks to hours.

“The magnitude of improvement in symptoms in many studies ranges from 40 to 70 percent improvement within a few weeks,” noted Dr. Roger McIntyreProfessor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the University of Toronto. In 2018, McIntyre established the Canadian Rapid Treatment Center of Excellence (CRTCECanada’s first private clinic to offer ketamine treatment for depression.

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that nearly five percent of Canadians are affected by major depression and that over 4,000 Canadians died by suicide in 2019.

Ketamine appears to be particularly promising for people who haven’t had success treating their depression with traditional monoamine anti-depressants, which – when they do work – usually take four to four weeks to get the maximum benefit. It takes six weeks.

“It’s really a success,” Dr. McIntyre said.

In November 2020, following his bout with depression, Bruno Guerremont traveled to Field Trip Health from Victoria, BC, his home in Toronto, for an orally administered ketamine treatment.

Bruno Guerremont in Ketamine-Assisted TherapyWhile ketamine has anti-depressant effects well documented, therapists at Field Trip Health, aim to maximize the psychedelic properties of medication and combine it with psychotherapy.

“Change does not happen within the session itself. It’s before and after, when you’re working on your trauma, when you’re really understanding it,” Guerremont said.

In 2020, Health Canada approves ketamine-derived nasal spray Off-label use of the drug is permitted for treatment-resistant depression and when administered intravenously or orally by healthcare professionals.

But many other illegal psychedelics and party drugs are also being studied for their therapeutic value. Among them, psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms. Clinical Trials With Psilocybin has shown improvement in symptoms in patients struggling with a range of disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Although prescribed as a controlled substance, in 2020 Health Canada allowed patients with end-of-life distress known as a Section 56 exemption to undergo therapeutic sessions with the drug.

Meanwhile, clinics treating depression with ketamine are opening across Canada. There are currently at least 12 private facilities and several hospital-based programs.

But ketamine treatments also aren’t suitable for “cures” or everyone with mood disorders. Patients may be ineligible for treatment if they display a history of psychosis, high blood pressure, or substance abuse.

A typical ketamine treatment regimen includes 4 to 6 sessions over a period of two to three weeks. Patients often require booster doses and the long-term effects are still unclear, although researchers say there is little evidence to support addiction to the drug under medical supervision.

Furthermore, the cost of private treatment is not cheap—$750 per ketamine session and $250 for each psychotherapy appointment at Field Trip Health, and about $850 per intravenous infusion in CRTCE.

But for patients like Bruno Guerremont, treatment with ketamine has offered a new approach.

“Life is really enjoyable, which is amazing,” he said. “I didn’t want to be here. I will now.”

Mental Health Resources:

If you are in crisis, call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency department.

24/7/365 Crisis Support Services from the Canada Suicide Prevention Service:


in Quebec: 1-866-277-3553

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