Infusing Promise 1

Ketamine For Life

For those suffering from depression or pain, with no effective solution, ketamine might be the answer. Widely used in hospitals for anesthesia, it is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, which lists the safest and most effective medicines needed in a health system. Ketamine’s antidepressant effects can start as early as a few hours after the first treatment.

“We have people who come in who have been miserably depressed for long periods of time, and the next day they’ll be like a whole new person,” says Dr. Jake Hollingsworth, a board-certified psychiatrist and the founder and president of Ketamine For Life, Inc. (KFL). He provides intravenous (IV) ketamine infusions for people struggling with Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and chronic pain conditions.

After moving to San Diego in 2015 with his wife Jessica, who is a physician, and their two sons, Jake started working at a traditional outpatient psychiatric practice. But he wasn’t impressed with the traditional treatments, which were largely ineffective. He started offering ketamine treatments part-time in a small wellness clinic in Cardiff. Eventually, his business was booming – it was time to focus on ketamine full-time. He officially opened his new Del Mar practice in March 2017.

Jake’s new patients often come in frustrated because nothing has helped them. “They’ve been on many different medications and combinations, and they’re pretty much out of options. The odds of something like ketamine working are really high for them.” Ketamine can also help optimize a patient’s current medications.

“It works on different pathways that the typical antidepressants don’t work on,” says Jessica, who is currently in anesthesiology residency at UCSD, but plans to be part of KFL when she finishes. “So a lot of those medications they’ve tried are all the same kind of class of drugs, whereas ketamine is in a class of its own.” Researchers theorize that ketamine helps reconnect the brain’s receptors, neurons, synapsis, and connections that get damaged by stress and depression over the years.

But Jake makes sure patients understand that ketamine, like all other psychiatric approaches, may or may not work for them. “The odds are probably in your favor that we can find something to work,” says Jake, who believes there’s always an option. If a patient doesn’t respond to the infusions, he’ll direct them to other psychiatric treatments, which may include behavioral therapies.

KFL is the only ketamine clinic in San Diego offering it as an IV infusion – the next is in Orange County. And most West Coast ketamine clinics charge twice as much as Jake. He maintains his prices with his low overhead costs. Ketamine is a generic drug and not yet FDA-approved so insurance companies don’t cover the treatment. Since Jake is on the insurance panels though, he can bill insurance companies for the initial consultation, which costs $300-$500 at other clinics.

As for the treatment process, after filling out paperwork, a consultation and psychiatric evaluation follows. If your screening is approved, you can start your first infusion. Jake tries to complete the treatments in a short amount of time, typically six infusions within one to three weeks. Afterward, patients are usually set up with single monthly maintenance infusions, with the frequency dependent on their results. He’ll inform patients about ketamine, describe what they’ll do, and set the expectations — when or if they should start feeling better.

“There are so many clinics that do it in a hospital bed and it seems really clinical and cold,” says Jessica. At KFL, there’s always someone in the room with patients, providing stability and checking in on how they feel. “This is like a little living room; it’s comfortable and safe.”

Most patients say they enjoy the 40-minute sessions, and the dissociative effects of the ketamine quickly clear, usually within 15 minutes of the treatment ending. Rarely, people will experience nausea and most will have a mild, transient increase in blood pressure. Common drawbacks to other typical psychiatric medications include weight gain, lethargy, illness, decreased sex drive, and suicidal feelings.

Because of the number of patients coming in, Jake often overlaps two people undergoing infusions in the same room concurrently. At first, he didn’t know if it would work well. “People can be socially introverted with social anxiety because of their depression,” he says. But he saw how patients really enjoyed talking to each other. “The shared space creates a strong community, they have a place where they feel accepted and supported.”