TORONTO – It has been more than a decade since Bruno Guèvremont returned to Canada after his military deployment in Afghanistan. Like so many other veterans, Guèvremont’s combat experiences had a mental impact.
During his second tour in 2009, Guevremont was part of a team that dismantled improvised explosive devices, or improvised explosive devices.
One incident, in particular, changed him. Guevremont says he was the first Canadian soldier to defuse a suicide vest on a living person. But it was not the high degree of danger in this situation that affected him.
“The suicide bomber had a mental handicap. He had been told that if he didn’t, they were going to kill his family, ”Guevremont told W5 correspondent Avery Haines. “So it started to play with my mind.”
After returning to Canada, Guèvremont suffered panic attacks and thoughts of suicide. She was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety.
When talk therapy and antidepressants didn’t help, Guevremont looked for alternatives in an attempt to regain his sanity. He joined an 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. cause.
Then, in March 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown sent Guevremont into a free fall and he again considered committing suicide.
“I started to get really depressed, I started to have dark thoughts,” he told W5.
It was then that Guevremont learned of the existence of an unconventional treatment for severe depression and PTSD, involving ketamine.
Ketamine is known to be a hallucinogenic party drug dubbed Special K, a veterinary tranquilizer and anesthetic that has been used in hospitals for over 50 years. But at sub-anesthetic doses, the drug has shown an ability to quickly reduce symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts, within weeks to hours.
“The magnitude of symptom improvement in many studies approaches 40 to 70 percent improvement within a few weeks,” noted Dr. Roger McIntyre, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto. In 2018, McIntyre founded the Canadian Center of Excellence for Rapid Treatment (CRTCE) – the first private clinic in Canada to offer ketamine treatments for depression.
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that approximately five percent of Canadians are affected by major depression and that more than 4,000 Canadians committed suicide in 2019.
Ketamine appears to hold particular promise for people who have failed to treat their depression with conventional monoamine antidepressants, which – when they work – typically take four to six weeks to get maximum benefit.
“It really is a breakthrough,” said Dr. McIntyre.
In November 2020, after his episode of depression, Bruno Guèvremont traveled from his home in Victoria, British Columbia, to Field Trip Health, in Toronto – for oral ketamine treatment.
While the antidepressant effects of ketamine are well documented, the therapists at Field Trip Health also aim to maximize the psychedelic qualities of the drug and combine it with psychotherapy.
“The transformation doesn’t happen during the session itself. It happens before and after, when you work on your trauma, when you make sense of it, ”said Guevremont.
In 2020, Health Canada approved a ketamine-derived nasal spray for treatment-resistant depression and authorized off-label use of the drug when administered intravenously or orally by healthcare professionals.
But a host of other illegal psychedelics and party drugs are also being investigated for their therapeutic value. Among them is psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms. Clinical trials with psilocybin have shown improvement in symptoms in patients with a range of disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Although planned as a controlled substance, in 2020, Health Canada began offering so-called section 56 exemptions to patients with end-of-life distress so that they can follow treatment sessions with the drug. .
Meanwhile, clinics that treat depression with ketamine are opening across Canada. There are currently at least 12 private institutions and several hospital-based programs.
But ketamine treatments are not a “cure” or even suitable for all people with mood disorders. Patients may not be eligible for treatment if they have a history of psychosis, hypertension, or substance abuse.
A typical ketamine treatment regimen consists of 4 to 6 sessions over a two to three week period. Patients often need booster doses and long-term effects are still unclear, although researchers say there is little evidence to support addiction to the drug when given under medical supervision.
Plus, the cost of private treatment doesn’t come cheap – $ 750 per ketamine session and $ 250 for each psychotherapy appointment at Field Trip Health, and about $ 850 per intravenous infusion at CRTCE.
But for patients like Bruno Guèvremont, ketamine treatments have offered a renewed perspective.
“Life is really good, which is amazing,” he said. “I didn’t want to be here. Now yes.”
Mental health resources:
If you are in a crisis, dial 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department.
Canadian Suicide Prevention Service 24/7/365 Crisis Support Services:
In Quebec: 1-866-277-3553
Watch the episode this Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV