Saturday, August 22, 2015

freight train of happiness...

Bloomberg | On the seventh floor of a building overlooking the Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan, two medical clinics share an office. One is run by a podiatrist who’s outfitted the waiting room with educational materials on foot problems such as hammer toes and bunions. The other clinic doesn’t have pamphlets on display and offers a much less conventional service: For the advertised price of $525, severely depressed and suicidal patients can get a 45-minute intravenous infusion of ketamine—better known as the illicit party drug Special K.

Glen Brooks, a 67-year-old anesthesiologist, opened NY Ketamine Infusions in 2012. “At least eight or nine of my patients have ended up making appointments with the podiatrist,” he says. “But I haven’t gotten any patients through him—I don’t know why.” Not that Brooks is lacking for business. He typically treats 65 patients a week. Most come in for an initial six infusions within a span of two weeks, then return every six to eight weeks for maintenance sessions. To keep up with demand, he often borrows rooms from the podiatrist on weekends so he can treat eight patients at once. His only help is a secretary at the front desk.

Patients don’t need a prescription, but not just anyone can get an appointment. “You have to have the right story,” Brooks says. “For ketamine to work, there needs to be some preexisting brain damage caused by post-traumatic stress. I’m looking for some indication of childhood trauma. If not overt pain, then fear, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem—or bullying, real or perceived.” Patients receive a low dose of the drug: about one-tenth of what recreational abusers of ketamine take or about one-fifth of what might be used as a general anesthetic.

During the infusions, which are gradual rather than all at once, patients often experience strange sensations, such as seeing colors and patterns when they close their eyes. “The first time, I had a sense that the chair was rocketing upwards, just on and on and on … a kind of weightlessness,” a patient from a different clinic explains. The 51-year-old environmental engineer and university lecturer, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, credits ketamine with reviving him from a near-catatonic depression. “During the treatment, I got this profound feeling of optimism,” he says. “I told my family it’s like getting hit by the freight train of happiness—they tease me about that now.”